UA Receives $1.6 Million for Mining Safety Training Program

Researchers at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the UA Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources received a $1.6 million federal grant to develop more effective training methods, including using “serious computer games,” to improve safety among U.S. mine workers.

The University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the UA Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources have received a $1.6 million federal grant to develop more effective training methods – including the use of computer games – to improve safety among U.S mine workers. 

Falling within the realm of “serious games” – those that have applications other than entertainment – the simulations will be designed to replicate a real-life mining environment. Serious games provide an opportunity to put mine workers in dynamic situations and environments that allow them to make decisions and see the consequences of their actions. The three-year grant is funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 

The UA team is a pioneer in the use of serious games that simulate training exercises for mining industries. Earlier this year, the UA licensed an interactive training program developed at the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources to Tucson-based startup company Desert Saber. The program, created in collaboration with the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health and with funding from Science Foundation Arizona, NIOSH and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, simulates training exercises for mining industries.

For the NIOSH study, the UA research team is partnering with McCraren Compliance, a Tucson-based company that provides mining and other occupational training safety services, the office of the Arizona State Mine Inspector, recipients of the Mine Safety and Health Administration grant and other local and national mining companies and trainers to create a national network to share best safety practices.

“Using computer games to improve the safety of miners is a great example of how novel applications of technology can make life better and, in this case, potentially save lives," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. “We are proud of the pioneering work being done by our researchers at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources. Their efforts to build a national network to share best safety practices will benefit mining employees not just here in Arizona, but across the United States.”

“U.S. mine workers sit through many hours of safety training each year but the training is not always as effective as it needs to be,” said Jeff Burgess, MD, MPH, associate dean of research and professor at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health and principal investigator for the grant. “This study will focus on reducing fatalities, injuries and illness in mine workers by developing a competency-based framework for safety training for workers, safety professionals and managers through the use of serious games.”

“The games allow researchers and safety professionals to analyze the decisions workers make in complex situations and use that feedback to improve situational awareness, improve operating procedures and foster behaviors for safe work,” said Leonard Brown, PhD, research scientist for serious games at the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources.

“Serious games allow a trainer to utilize the effectiveness of on-the-job training while not exposing the new miner to physical harm. Mistakes are life’s greatest teachers, and with serious games new miners learn these lessons in a safe environment,” said Glenna Smith, CMSP, safety professional at McCraren Compliance.

“The success of our mining safety and health research at the UA is founded on the interdisciplinary approach that we bring to problems, as well as our strong partnerships with stakeholders,” said Mary Poulton, PhD, who was a University Distinguished Professor of mining and geological engineering, as well as the founding director of the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Grant No.: 2U60 OH010014-08

Western Mining Safety and Health Resource Training Center

The Western Mining Safety and Health Resource Training Center at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health supports the occupational health needs of the mining community. The Resource Training Center provides timely and relevant mining community-specific information, resources and methods that increase the capacity and efficacy of exposure measurement, safety training and leadership for miners. The Center is an interdisciplinary collaborative program with the UA Department of Mining and Geological Engineering and the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health. The Center is funded by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. For more information: miningsh.arizona.edu

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences

The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. The UA Health Sciences includes the UA Colleges of Medicine (Phoenix and Tucson), Nursing, Pharmacy and Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, the UA Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona and the greater Southwest to provide cutting-edge health education, research, patient care and community outreach services. A major economic engine, the UA Health Sciences employs almost 5,000 people, has nearly 1,000 faculty members and garners more than $140 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: uahs.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn)