This is the logo of the National Mining Association Stay Alert initiative.

NIOSH Gives Safety in Mining a Boost

NIOSH said yesterday it has readied a computer-based training program to prepare the new generation of miners to read mine maps, which is critical for staying safe underground. NMA's "Safety First: Stay Alert" initiative has offered training materials to mine operators.

Heralding the achievement as the day "safety training for new miners enters the 21st century," NIOSH on Monday announced it has created a computer-based training program to teach young miners to read mine maps, which is "a critical skill in learning how to navigate the labyrinth of tunnels and to stay safe in underground mines," according to the agency. And there's more going on in mining safety:

  • A new competition will be unveiled at the 2010 National Metal and Nonmetal Mine Rescue Contest in Reno, Nev., combining the Apparatus Bench and Multi-gas Instrument Competitions into an overall mine rescue team preparation exercise.
  • In 2010, NIOSH celebrates the 100th anniversary of federally funded mine safety research in the United States, and NIOSH's Pittsburgh Research Lab will host a series of events during the year to commemorate the centennial. Visit this site for information.

This MSHA photo shows a coal miner working underground."Designed to be used in safety training courses that mine operators are required to provide by federal law, the program builds on the principle that young miners who have grown up with video games and other computer applications will find this kind of interactive, game-format training more engaging and more meaningful than traditional classroom lecture and instruction," the agency said in Monday's announcement, which said the program lets new miners navigate the twists, turns, and network of openings and tunnels of a mine in a realistic way.

"NIOSH is pleased to meet our stakeholders' needs for innovative safety training tools to serve a new generation of miners," said NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard. "By helping to keep miners safe, we help the U.S. mining industry and the mining workforce maintain their leadership in the competitive 21st Century global market."

The game is downloaded to the user's desktop. Upon opening it, the user assumes a first person role inside a "virtual" coal mine, with an unseen narrator giving voice commands about what to do as the game progresses. The user navigates using a color-coded mine map that opens on the desktop. The object of the game is for the user to locate specific tools in various parts of the mine and deliver them to a boss. Users will encounter other miners who share stories, offer instructions, and help the user stay on track. He or she will learn the locations for safety devices, including a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and breathing apparatus. A free download from this site, the game can be completed in about two hours.

NIOSH also said it is working on advanced training software that would include a program addressing the knowledge and skills necessary to evacuate a mine during an emergency; virtual reality scenarios that include multi-player options so that multiple trainees can enter the mine at the same time via networked computers and communicate possible solutions to one another; and programs that emulate actual safety tasks for miners underground, such as taking mine gas measurements, navigating smoke-filled passages, and donning a breathing apparatus.

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