Coal Age

JAN-FEB 2017

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34 January-February 2017 health & safety Informational Preferences of Coal Miners The What, When and Who by jennica bellanca, brianna eiter and tim orr Miners need to be aware of their surround- ings in order to keep themselves safe and healthy and reduce their risk. To maintain situational awareness, they need to detect, understand and act on the events going on around them (Endsley et al., 2000). Miners can get some health and safety informa- tion from what they can see, smell, touch or feel. However, in today's mines, they also get an increasing amount of informa- tion via technology. In order to better define the situation- al awareness and informational prefer- ences of miners underground, NIOSH re- searchers asked miners what information they think is critical to know, who knows it, how often it is updated, and who is re- sponsible for monitoring it. Researchers also asked them, in an ideal setting, who should know it, how often should it be updated, and who should be responsible for monitoring it. The survey focused on miners' perceptions of gas levels, airflow, dust levels, and the location of people and equipment (Figure 1). These items were selected because they are some of the most common measurements related to critical health and safety risks. While the survey was designed to be in- dependent of technology and information presentation methods (i.e., display, alert, etc.), gas, dust and location information offer an interesting comparison related to technology integration and are the focus here. First, these technologies are of varying maturity. The multigas meter is the oldest, with approved methane detectors dating back to the 1950s (MSHA, 2015c). Second, regulated dust monitoring technology dates back to the 1980s, but was significantly over- hauled in 2014 with the introduction of the continuous personal dust monitor (CPDM) (MSHA, 2014). Last, proximity detection is the newest of the three, with a new require- ment for continuous mining machines and a proposed rule for mobile haulage over the last two years (MSHA, 2015a; 2015b). These technologies also differ in the type of information they provide. Methane and carbon monoxide are colorless, odor- less and tasteless. Miners would not be able to sense them without the help of a tech- nological aid such as a multigas meter. In the case of dust, technology quantifies in- formation so miners can better understand the hazard. They can see the presence of dust, but the CPDM allows them to quan- tify their exposure in real time. Lastly, prox- imity detection systems are a technology that improves and supports miners' senses. While miners can see the equipment im- mediately around them, curtains and cor- ners often obstruct their view, and some- times miners do not even realize a piece of equipment is there until it is almost on top of them. Proximity detection and equip- ment tracking can warn miners and even automatically stop equipment. For the current survey, under an In- stitutional Review Board (IRB)-approved protocol, researchers administered pa- per-and-pencil surveys to 50 underground coal miners from the Appalachian region. Miners ranged in age from 21 to 53 years old and in mining experience from 1 to 32 years. All miners surveyed worked primarily underground and were laborers, operators and supervisors. The data was collected be- tween February and December 2014. What Information is Critical? Not surprisingly, the miners surveyed re- ported that all of the information was criti- cal to maintain their situational awareness and reduce their risk. However, on average, the miners reported that dust levels and equipment locations were significantly less critical to know. One explanation for this finding could be that many miners self-re- ported that they do not currently have ac- cess to this information, consistent with the integration timelines outlined above. The biggest gaps were dust levels and equipment locations. Fifty-eight percent of miners reported not knowing their dust exposure at all, and 80% indicated that they did not know the location of the equipment that they were not directly working with at any time (e.g., even at the beginning of the shift). By comparison, only 4% of miners reported not knowing gas levels. Dust exposure may have also been rated as less critical to know by miners be- cause it leads to a chronic — not acute — illness with some associated uncertainty Figure 1—Common examples of equipment used to measure gas levels, airflow and dust levels as well as sensors for location tracking and proximity detection.

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