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How NIOSH fulfills its mission; The completed research has made mining much safer
While most of us are aware that the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) carries on the legacy of the U.S. Bureau of Mines in health and safety research, it is all too easy to overlook the continuing impact that NIOSH has on our industry. The ultimate mission of the NIOSH mining program is to eliminate mining fatalities, injuries and illnesses through relevant research and the facilitation of impactful solutions. To fulfill this mission, the NIOSH research portfolio spans a broad range of focus areas with the goals of reducing occupational illness and disease, reducing injuries and fatalities, and disaster prevention and response. While a discussion of the major contributions of NIOSH mining would exceed the space allocated for this column, I thought it important to emphasize a few prominent examples of what NIOSH does.
Reducing occupational illness and disease. NIOSH has made significant contributions to improving miner health by advancing research in areas such as hearing loss prevention, respiratory hazard exposure monitoring and hazard mitigation through engineering controls. NIOSH also focuses on fatigue, heat stress and ergonomics, as well as a host of other health-related challenges common to mining. NIOSH received the inaugural 2018 SME Robert E. Murray Innovation Award for two novel technologies designed to address miner health: the continuous personal dust monitor (CPDM) and the Helmet CAM. The CPDM provides an underground coal miner with a wearable, near-real-time instrument to monitor mine dust levels and empowers the individual miner to make immediate changes to reduce exposure to respirable coal mine dust. The Helmet CAM provides the ability to tie workplace activities (via video) to worker exposure (noise, dust, DPM), providing input for environmental and behavioral changes in the work environment.
The Dust Control Handbook for Industrial Minerals Mining and Processing, a collaborative effort between NIOSH and industry, has proven to be an invaluable tool for operators and health and safety professionals. Other NIOSH research activities with significant impact include roof bolter air curtains and dust bags, extended-cut ventilation, continuous miner and jumbo drill noise reduction, and DPM measurement.
Reducing injuries and fatalities. While NIOSH has extensive programs that encompass a range of subjects related to machine design and human factors engineering, such as proximity detection, it is best known for its ground-control software, based on both empirical and numerical methods. The U.S. Mine, Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) utilizes NIOSH pillar design and roof-support programs for regulatory approval. NIOSH's work on seismic monitoring for ground control continues to lead the field, and recent projects on shotcrete have led to significant advancements in application and use. Unique facilities, such as the underground coal mines and the Mine Roof Simulator at the Pittsburgh Mining Research Division and the High-Energy High-Displacement Frame at the Spokane Mining Research Division, have contributed greatly to insights into support design and application.
Disaster prevention and response. The best method to prevent propagation of dust explosions in underground coal mines work is through the proper application of rock dust. A recent review concluded "NIOSH findings dispelled decades of mistaken beliefs on best practices for applying and maintaining rock dust" leading to significant regulatory changes and enhanced mine safety. NIOSH has also developed and commercialized a Coal Dust Explosibility Meter to obtain rapid measurements of the incombustible content in mine dust. NIOSH has funded the development of a treated anti-caking rock dust and foam rock dust slurry that could be sprayed on rib and roof surfaces, enhancing adhesion and the evaluation of seal designs for abandoned areas of underground coal mines. The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act of 2006 mandated refuge alternatives in underground coal mines and NIOSH's work has been critical in evaluating capacity and usability of these shelters.
Extramural contracts and grants. Under the MINER Act, NIOSH was given authority to award contracts related to the development and implementation of new mine technology and equipment, resulting in the issuance of more than 160 contracts focused on worker health and safety. Among other innovations, these contracts were responsible for many of the communications and miner tracking systems currently in use in underground mining. The contracts program was expanded with an academic Capacity Build Program in 2009 and 2011, directed toward developing university tenure-track faculty and facilities and supporting graduate students in the areas of mine ventilation and ground control. Under this Capacity Build Program, 34 five-year contracts have been issued to recipients from 12 of the 13 current ABET accredited U.S. mining engineering programs. To date, the first four contract cycles of this program have funded 103 masters and 81 doctoral students. The scope of this program was recently expanded to cover mine systems design.
The NIOSH Mining Program remains fully committed to its vision Safe Mines, Healthy Workers and maintains a worker-focused, highly diverse research portfolio to achieve this objective. I strongly encourage SME members to visit NIOSH's facilities in either Pittsburgh, PA or Spokane, WA and open a dialogue with their researchers on any safety and health issues you might have. Only through collaboration can we continue to make advances to ensure the safety and welfare of everyone in our industry. This needs to be a priority and a non-negotiable value for us all.
I'd like to extend my sincere thanks to several contributors to this article who wish to remain anonymous. Their passion for worker safety is truly inspiring. Given the focus of this article, it's also fitting to acknowledge the life and contributions of Tom Falkie, who recently passed away. Besides being a true giant in the mining industry, he was a consummate professional and an outstanding gentleman. Falkie held numerous positions in industry, government and academia and served as an SME President and the Director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. He'll definitely be missed. See page 67 for his obituary. I wish you all the best. Take care and be safe.