There has been significant progress in reducing the risk of serious injury or death for those who work in underground coal mines (Figure 1). In 2003, there were 15 fatalities, which was the lowest recorded number since coal mining began in the United States. Even so, there is still room for improvement and a need for systematic research. The risk of serious injury in mines will always exist as workers are still exposed to hazards due to the inherent nature and challenges of underground coal mining.

From 1998 to 2003, 17% of all underground coal mining injuries happened during roof bolting activities, which is the most high-risk job of all face worker activities. Excluding fatalities, 66% of these injuries involved days lost with an average of 38 actual days lost per injury. In response to these losses, there is a focused attention on reducing the risk of injury to roof bolter operators.

This paper describes, in three different sections, the efforts of safety researchers and machine manufacturers to reduce the number of injuries to roof bolter operators affected by three factors: worker decisions and actions, the condition of the underground working environment, and machine technology. The first section gives an explanation of effective innovations in roof bolter training that integrate safety, production, and maintenance. The second section discusses research findings on how to reduce rock fall injuries, which are the number one cause of roof bolter operator injuries. Finally, the third section presents advancements in roof bolting technology that increase the safety of roof bolter operators.

Figure 1. Throughout the history of U.S. coal mining, the number of underground fatalities has been dramatically reduced. (available in full paper)

Innovations in Roof Bolter Training: Using Job Training Analysis to Structure On-the-Job Training to Integrate Safety and Production Skills

This section summarizes a process for quickly developing information that is useful for skills training. The process described is called Job Training Analysis (JTA). The JTA procedure is grounded within the military research on Instructional Systems Design (ISD). The JTA process has been refined into its current form by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHAa), who worked in early collaboration with the Navy and mining companies and manufacturers of mining equipment. The JTA process has demonstrated potential for adding significant value to mining organizations, seeking to connect safety, production, and maintenance.

The roof bolting JTA described herein is one example of the JTA process. It is based on NIOSH collaborative work with personnel from Twentymile Coal Company, J.H. Fletcher and Co, and MSHA. It provides structure for skills training as it is built on lessons learned from experienced workers and connects their experience with technical expertise from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), researchers, and safety professionals. The JTA process involves three main activities:

  1. planning,

  2. a 1-3 day workshop, and

  3. follow up.

A JTA for a particular job (e.g., roof bolting) is developed during the 1-3 day workshop.

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