Mining is a $100 billion industry employing 2 million people in the U.S. In Arizona, nearly 50,000 employees work in mining related businesses. The University of Arizona is a recognized leader offering programs in the full range of disciplines related to mineral resources from geology and mining engineering to health, safety, and the environment.
The Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources have been awarded $1.3 million in funding to conduct two research projects related to mining safety. The grants from the Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health include $669,208 to identify effective risk management interventions and $663,817 to improve the effectiveness of mine safety training.
Despite marked improvement over the years, mining remains a dangerous profession in the U.S., with 36 fatalities in 2012 and 20 fatalities to date in 2013. Some mines are safer than others, due in part to differences in their safety and health programs and training effectiveness.
The risk management grant will be administered by lead researchers Jeff Burgess, MD, MPH, and Eric Lutz, PhD, of the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health and Gautam Gowrisankaran, PhD, professor in the Eller College of Management. The training effectiveness grant will be administered by Mary Poulton, PhD, professor and director of the Lowell Institute for Minerals Resources and the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, and Dr. Lutz.
“Every day, mine operators across the U.S. are challenged to ensure their employees, contractors, and vendors are highly competent with regards to safety. These research projects will result in pragmatic tools that safety personnel and trainers can use to evaluate and improve their program effectiveness.” said Lutz, who is also chair of the Health and Safety Committee for the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration.
Risk management programs are widely required in other countries but only a limited number of U.S. mining companies follow established programs. The risk management project will evaluate the effectiveness of recent mining industry safety and health interventions in reducing injuries and injury-related costs.
The training research will bring together an inter-collegiate team at the University of Arizona to work with mining industry partners to provide guidance to mine safety trainers in a manner that meets the Mine Safety and Health Administration requirements.
Lutz says the purpose of the training research is to improve methods in mandated mine safety training programs. “Measuring the learning principles applied in this study will allow managers to evaluate their trainers, and provide mine companies and regulatory agencies with a powerful tool to assess the quality of contractor or vendor-led training courses.”
The new grants build on a long history of interdisciplinary mining safety and health research at the University of Arizona, including the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering in the College of Engineering; the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and the Eller College of Management.