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Feds to Study Safety Devices for Underground Miners

For workers who are exposed to hazardous conditions or substances on the job, proper monitoring can make a world of difference. With good monitoring tools, workers are able to tell when exposure levels become unsafe, therefore allowing them to remove themselves from dangerous situations before too much harm is done.

However, creating effective monitoring tools requires striking a balance between providing enough information and using a format that can be easily and quickly understood. Even the most sophisticated monitoring tools will not prevent work injury if workers cannot immediately understand when they are in harm's way.

This issue is currently at the forefront of the coal mining industry. As part of the federal MINER Act of 2006, underground coal miners are now required to carry safety devices including proximity detectors, dust monitors and wireless communications systems. Because the devices are so new, regulators are still unclear whether miners will be able to use them in a way that promotes workplace safety.

To that end, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will be conducting a study to determine what cognitive demands the safety devices will place on the workers who use them. In doing so, NIOSH hopes to answer three main questions:

  • What kind of information do miners need to protect their safety on the job?
  • What sort of expertise and decision-making skills can help miners work more safely and effectively?
  • How do miners interact with safety monitoring devices?

Once the NIOSH has answered these questions, it will use the study's results to draft comprehensive guidelines for coal miner safety. In addition, it hopes that this information could be used to promote safety in other industries as well.

Source: Occupational Health and Safety, "NIOSH to Study Cognitive Loads on Underground Coal Miners," Sept. 25, 2012.

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