Date:  March 14, 2013




Training and Technology Improvements to Mine Safety Operations
Can Better Prepare Underground Coal Miners for Escape


WASHINGTON -- Although recent advances in mining research and practices have improved the safety and health of underground coal miners and extensive rescue strategies are in place, more coordinated planning and training are needed to better prepare miners to escape in the event of a mine emergency, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The report recommends essential components for improving miners' ability to "self-escape" using available resources to remove themselves from an underground mine during an emergency.  The report does not address regulations and procedures that could prevent emergencies.


For self-escape, miners need working knowledge of their surroundings, appropriate equipment and technology, and effective communication and decision-making skills, said the committee that wrote the report.  Successful self-escape is not a solo effort, and it begins well before an emergency occurs.  Coordinated planning, training, technology use, and research strategies across mine operations are needed to empower mine workers with the ability to self-escape.  


"Escaping during the early stages of a mine emergency is critical, and every emergency has different circumstances, resources, and physical and psychological demands," said committee chair William Marras, professor in the integrated systems engineering department at Ohio State University, Columbus.  "Many improvements in mine safety, especially regulation, have historically followed major mine disasters.  A proactive, integrated approach is needed to improve the best chances for success." 


The committee identified several areas that would help improve self-escape capacity: technology, decision making, safety culture training, and existing escapeway drills.  It also recommended the following actions to promote miners' abilities to escape an emergency:


·         Operators and federal agencies should make systematic, regular efforts to collect and analyze information from drills and escape situations and make outcomes and lessons learned available to stakeholders for future improvements.

·         Both the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) should review their operational requirements for emergency supplies of breathable air, and NIOSH should allocate funds for research and development to improve the functionality of breathable air devices.  These improved devices should resolve problems with verbal communication, device weight and size, changeover or air replenishment in toxic environments, and adequate vision. 

·         NIOSH and MSHA should accelerate efforts to develop other technologies that enhance miners' ability to escape, such as devices that improve communications among miners and between miners and the surface, real-time gas monitors, and fail-safe tracking mechanisms.

·         NIOSH and MSHA should re-examine their technology approval and certification process to ensure they are not deterring innovation in relation to self-escape technologies.

·         More research is needed to create self-escape materials, training, and protocols for effective decision making during a mine emergency.

·         Training should be developed that emphasizes mastery of competency standards rather than duration and class time.

·         NIOSH should expand their safety culture efforts to inform the mining industry.


The study was sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's Office of Mine Safety and Health Research.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.



Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail


Pre-publication copies of Improving Self-Escape from Underground Coal Mines are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at or by calling tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

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Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Board on Human-System Integration

Committee on Mine Safety: Essential Components of Self-Escape

William S. Marras* (chair)
Professor of Engineering, and
Honda Endowed Chair
Department of Integrated Systems Engineering
Ohio State University

David Beerbower
Beerbower Safety Associates LLC
Wildwood, Mo.

Sian Beilock
Professor of Psychology
University of Chicago

David Cliff
Professor of Occupational Health and Safety in Mining, and
Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre
University of Queensland
Queensland, Australia

James Dean
Director of Mining and Industrial Extension
College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
West Virginia University

David M. DeJoy
Professor Emeritus, and
Director Emeritus
Department of Public Health
University of Georgia

Albert W. Holland
Senior Operational Psychologist
Behavioral Health and Performance Group Operations

Dennis B. O ’Dell
Occupational Health and Safety
United Mine Workers of America
Triangle, Va.

David H. Wegman
Adjunct Professor
Harvard School of Public Health, and
Professor Emeritus
Department of Work Environment
University of Massachussetts, Lowell



Toby Warden
Study Director


* Member, National Academy of Engineering