Real-Time Personal Dust Monitor Passes Early Test

An early test shows coal miners will pay attention to the readings shown on a personal dust monitor they're wearing and will make adjustment to reduce their dust exposures as a result. These findings come from "Miners' Views About Personal Dust Monitors," a NIOSH report posted by the agency last week.

The authors gave a recently developed monitor that provides near-real-time feedback about respirable coal dust in miners' breathing air to 30 miners at four underground mines in Utah and West Virginia. The miners wore them for a month and then were interviewed about them; one of the mines used continuous mining machinery only, and the other three used longwall mining equipment and continuous mining machines. Nineteen of the miners had more than 10 years of experience, and only one had less than two years.

The miners' responses showed two-thirds of them checked the monitor screen at least three times a day, and nearly all of them noticed the numbers tended to fluctuate throughout the day. Seventeen of the 30 said the displayed numbers were sometimes surprising to them, and all but one of these 17 said they were surprised by how high the numbers were.

Asked what they did in response, the miners reported 27 actions: 15 changed position, three changed ventilation, four changed both, and one wore his respirator more often. In 22 cases, the miners said they had checked their numbers after making the change(s) and found the numbers had dropped.

The monitor allows a miner to take a new "second sample" during the workday, but only 11 miners reported using this feature, so the NIOSH authors say more instruction or encouragement may be needed on this point. The report (www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/pubs/pdfs/2008-110.pdf) addresses possible reasons -- weight, screen illumination, etc. -- that might make miners reluctant to use the devices, but, encouragingly, it says 18 of the miners preferred this device to older-technology dust monitors they have worn.

The device was developed by NIOSH, the Bituminous Coal Operators' Association, the United Mine Workers of America, the National Mining Association, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. Inc.

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