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Study would gauge mental toll of mine safety tools

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The National Institute of Occupational Health wants permission to study how much mental and physical stress is placed on miners by new devices that were designed to protect their safety and gather input from those working underground.

The State Journal reports the proposal was published in the Federal Register on Monday and is available for public comment.

Mine disasters, including the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion that killed 29 men, have led to the mandated use of safety devices such as wireless communication systems, personal dust monitors and proximity detectors.

"However, while the benefits of such wearable devices are easy to understand within their own context," the proposal says, "they inevitably increase both the physical and cognitive burden placed on the mine worker who must carry, interact with, and ultimately make decisions with each one of the devices.''

The three-phase project would start with observation of 10-20 miners while they work to determine which tasks are most challenging.

In the second phase, a questionnaire would be distributed to as many as 150 underground miners to research "situational awareness'' and gather information about what miners believe they need to safely complete their job.

The final phase would test usability, changes in cognitive workload and situation awareness at a NIOSH facility in Pennsylvania.

The information gathered could help develop new guidelines for "human systems integration" with products to be used by miners. NIOSH says defense, aerospace and other industries regularly use HSI when acquiring equipment. The U.S. Army has guidelines called MANPRINT that set standards for usability, wearability and acceptability.

"The mining industry currently lacks a similar set of guidelines," NIOSH says.

Mining remains one of the nation's most dangerous professions.


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