6
Emerging Issues in Mining Safety and Health

The third charge to the committee was to consider significant emerging research areas in mining safety and health that appear especially important in terms of their relevance to the mission of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mining Program. Emerging issues can be associated with cultural or industrial factors or trends, such as changes in commodity demand, workforce, or technology. The Mining Program attempts to identify issues emerging in the next 5 to 10 years and has identified production demands, workforce issues, and mining practices as areas of future concern.

The committee foresees changes in the mining industry that can be predicted with certainty; other predictions represent educated conjecture. Mining production is expected to increase dramatically in the next 10 years. New technologies will be developed, new ventilation and ground control practices will be implemented, and new health and safety regulations enacted. At the same time, a large turnover is expected in the mine worker population as older workers retire and younger, less experienced workers join the workforce. Physical conditions such as mine depth, seam inclination, and seam thickness are likely to create a more challenging mining environment. The Mining Program should stay abreast of advances in mining methods and equipment and be prepared to offer recommendations where appropriate.

In the course of evaluating the Mining Program’s seven strategic research areas, the committee considered emerging issues for which the Mining Program needs to be prepared. This chapter presents a list of those issues, with brief explanation,



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Mining Safety and Health Research at NIOSH: Reviews of Research Programs of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health 6 Emerging Issues in Mining Safety and Health The third charge to the committee was to consider significant emerging research areas in mining safety and health that appear especially important in terms of their relevance to the mission of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mining Program. Emerging issues can be associated with cultural or industrial factors or trends, such as changes in commodity demand, workforce, or technology. The Mining Program attempts to identify issues emerging in the next 5 to 10 years and has identified production demands, workforce issues, and mining practices as areas of future concern. The committee foresees changes in the mining industry that can be predicted with certainty; other predictions represent educated conjecture. Mining production is expected to increase dramatically in the next 10 years. New technologies will be developed, new ventilation and ground control practices will be implemented, and new health and safety regulations enacted. At the same time, a large turnover is expected in the mine worker population as older workers retire and younger, less experienced workers join the workforce. Physical conditions such as mine depth, seam inclination, and seam thickness are likely to create a more challenging mining environment. The Mining Program should stay abreast of advances in mining methods and equipment and be prepared to offer recommendations where appropriate. In the course of evaluating the Mining Program’s seven strategic research areas, the committee considered emerging issues for which the Mining Program needs to be prepared. This chapter presents a list of those issues, with brief explanation,

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Mining Safety and Health Research at NIOSH: Reviews of Research Programs of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health organized by research area. An overview of program-wide overarching issues is provided in Chapter 7. EMERGING AREAS IN RESPIRATORY DISEASE PREVENTION Future research may show that nanoparticles are common in the mining environment, or that they are more toxic than larger-sized respirable particles. The Mining Program should stay aware of current and future research in this field and be ready to address potential control technologies associated with nanoparticles in the mining environment, especially methods of both measuring and controlling exposure. The recommendations of the Department of Labor advisory committee on the elimination of coal worker’s pneumoconiosis (U.S. Department of Labor, 1996) and a NIOSH criteria document (NIOSH, 1995) suggest lowering the standard for coal dust and silica. The Mining Program should be prepared, by working with its stakeholders to decide on a desirable approach, to address the technological challenges that may arise should the permissible exposure limit (PEL) be reduced. The Mining Program should be prepared to address how changing work organization (e.g., overtime, extended shifts) may affect the respiratory health of mine workers. There are no active underground uranium mines in the United States; therefore miners’ exposure to radon and its progeny is minimal. If the nuclear power industry expands, an increase in the demand for uranium and the reactivation of uranium mines can be expected, increasing the exposure of miners working within that sector to radon. Attention to control technologies and disease prevention will be required. EMERGING AREAS IN NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS PREVENTION As production increases due to equipment or process evolution, noise levels will increase. Future coal mining will likely involve thinner coal seams that may include more reject (rock), which produces higher noise levels. Deep mines can become very warm, making hearing protection devices more uncomfortable to wear—particularly for longer work shifts. More comfortable hearing protection needs to be designed to accommodate higher noise levels, deeper and warmer mines, and/or longer shifts. Substantial evidence indicates many miners have lost significant hearing (NIOSH, 1976; Seiler et al., 1994; Franks, 1996; Franks et al., 1996). The safety of the aging workforce needs to be protected to ensure they do not suffer further hearing loss, and that communication with them in the mine is not compromised.

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Mining Safety and Health Research at NIOSH: Reviews of Research Programs of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health As the aging workforce retires, a new generation of miners will require a tremendous educational effort to train them on the ill-effects of hearing loss and how to prevent it. The Mining Program should be prepared with training materials and appropriate dissemination plans. More needs to be learned about the combined effects of mixed exposures (noise and fuel and other vapors) as well as the combined effects of mixed noise (continuous and impulse-impact noise) environments. The Mining Program should stay abreast of research in this area and be prepared to conduct intervention research as problems are detected. Given a resumption of uranium mining, ototoxic effects of radiation, both alone and in the presence of other potential chemical agents (e.g., diesel exhaust, hydrocarbons), should be studied. The Mining Program should be prepared to conduct intervention research related to potential ototoxic effects. EMERGING AREAS IN CUMULATIVE MUSCULOSKELETAL INJURY PREVENTION Because mining in the future will be carried out under more difficult conditions (greater depths, thinner seams, more severe environmental conditions), research on the relationships between mining tasks, the demands on mine workers, and changing environmental factors will be necessary. The Mining Program should work proactively to provide interventions to avoid work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) as working conditions change. Increased use of remote control and automation are likely to result in new WMSDs. The Mining Program should stay aware of the trends in work and work organization to anticipate the risk of, and avoid, WMSDs. The changing nature of work organization (e.g., longer shifts) could potentially result in more or different WMSDs that the Mining Program should anticipate and avoid. EMERGING AREAS IN TRAUMATIC INJURY PREVENTION Changing mining conditions, such as increasing mine depths, new mining ventures (e.g., uranium, oil shales), the handling of mine wastes, new fuels or mobile equipment (such as biofuels and fuel cells), the use of satellite information and its applications, and the increased size of mining equipment and electrical voltages, could result in different traumatic injury hazards. The Mining Program should stay aware of research and advances and anticipate the hazards associated with them. Removing miners from hazardous areas by improving mining methods

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Mining Safety and Health Research at NIOSH: Reviews of Research Programs of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and equipment is a logical means of reducing traumatic injury. The Mining Program should be prepared to facilitate this through work with other research entities and manufacturers to simultaneously design new mining systems and safety equipment. EMERGING AREAS IN MINE DISASTER PREVENTION AND CONTROL Prevention (including the use of improved hazard detection and the identification of new hazard sources), control, escape, survival, response, rescue, and other elements should be addressed in mine design, operations, miner training, personal protective equipment, rescue equipment, etc., in a systems engineering framework to eliminate or reduce the occurrences of disastrous events and enhance the chances of escape, survival, and rescue if they occur. From the collective research perspective, defining a good system is paramount. Multiple, redundant systems are required, particularly for escape and survival. The Mining Program should be prepared to develop a systematic approach to the remote control of mines and mine systems. Continuous monitoring of conditions, especially by remote means, will become increasingly vital as the mining environment becomes more complex. The Mining Program should develop the means to continuously monitor data, with the possibility for response via intelligent system analysis, as the level of complexity increases. The need to improve emergency escape and survival equipment will increase with a more complex mining environment. Communications, emergency response, and rescue team deployment strategies will all be more difficult in future mining settings. The Mining Program should be aware of internationally developed technologies, while continuing to develop its own as needed, to have the best disaster prevention and response strategies in place as change occurs. EMERGING AREAS IN GROUND FAILURE PREVENTION RESEARCH There are highly sophisticated numerical techniques for modeling variously shaped openings in discontinuous and heterogeneous materials. However, simplifications are almost always required to reduce the problem to a manageable level. A fresh look needs to be taken to model in situ conditions more accurately. The Mining Program should consider further developing the fundamental design methodology with an evaluation of the sensitivity to variability in the input parameters. The recent emergency at Quecreek and close calls at other underground mines emphasize the importance of being able to detect voids before mining be-

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Mining Safety and Health Research at NIOSH: Reviews of Research Programs of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health gins. The Mining Program should investigate the applicability of current or newly developed technology in detecting voids, especially those containing water, and should consider the benefits of developing routine procedures to improve mining in the vicinity of old mines and at-risk geologic conditions. At great depths, violent failures of pillars and longwall faces produce extreme hazards to underground workers and contribute to mining-induced seismicity. The potential for bursting could be reduced by appropriate mine layout and mining sequencing. Mining Program research into the relative merits of various mine design scenarios would likely reduce hazards and optimize resource recovery. Explosives are commonly used to drive openings for underground metal mines and for some stone mines. Unwanted damage beyond the perimeter of the opening often results from fractures that extend from the blastholes into the surrounding rock mass. These fractures weaken the roof and walls of the opening and contribute to unexpected rock falls. Research is needed to improve understanding of the fracturing process and to develop better design methods to limit collateral damage. Research is also needed to remove blast-damaged rock through better scaling methods and protection of workers by improved surface treatments. EMERGING AREAS IN SURVEILLANCE, TRAINING, AND INTERVENTION EFFECTIVENESS RESEARCH Exposure monitoring of processes that are increasing in use, but not well characterized, is needed. For example, in situ leaching and increased solvent extraction-electrowinning1 (SX-EW) in copper and other metal mining should become a major focus, given the shift toward the use of this method. The Mining Program should identify these types of processes and be prepared to identify or develop best exposure monitoring techniques. As monitoring becomes more efficient, the effects of mixed exposures should be evaluated. The effects of combined exposure to dusts and chemicals on the health of miners and the effects of various combined components of diesel exhaust, particularly as new pollution control equipment changes the chemical characteristics of the exhaust, need to be understood. There are guidelines and suggestions for multimode exposure in other industries. Mining does not have either a standard or a guideline. This could be a worthwhile area for future Mining Program research. As stated several times, the mining environment is changing. Given the move toward deeper mines, the Mining Program should evaluate the environmental and occupational hazards of deeper mines (especially heat exposure). Advances in information technology bring new opportunities for informa- 1 Electrowinning is the process of extracting metals from solution by electrolysis.

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Mining Safety and Health Research at NIOSH: Reviews of Research Programs of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health tion dissemination. The Mining Program should study the effectiveness of new educational materials, including virtual reality training, to ascertain if the increased cost of these techniques is associated with greater change in miner awareness and reduction in hazardous work activities.