Sept/Oct 2011

Student Life

Solid foundations: Integrating occupational health and safety into mining programs

By M. Tuters

It is widely said that the most important thing to leave a mine is not the ore, but the worker. To truly ingrain this belief into the mining culture means instilling the ideals of safety into the future workforce.

Believing that occupational health and safety is just as important as any other core subject within an undergraduate mining program, in January 2010 I undertook a study to determine how it is integrated into the curricula of Canadian, American and Australian mining schools.

Twenty-five universities in these countries were surveyed on the nature of their syllabuses. Twelve schools participated in the study and only 42 percent of them required a course on occupational health and safety to obtain a degree. Every school that did not require one had the topic integrated into a number of other courses.

The dominant mining literature for these countries was quantified and compared in relation to relevant health and safety material. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME), and the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) were determined to be the organizations that provide the most pertinent literature in relation to mining health and safety.

The courses that offered relevant information on the topic for each university were compared based on the relevance of their textbooks and course content. Using this analysis, changes to the curricula at certain schools were recommended. Upon completion of this study, the following suggestions were developed for Canadian, American and Australian mining schools:

  • A specific course on occupational health and safety should be mandatory for the completion of an undergraduate mining degree in all three countries. The addition of this course should not justify the removal of occupational health and safety components that are already present in other courses. The specific course should be an integrating mechanism to build on the materials covered in other technical subjects, such as mine design or ventilation.
  • An action plan should be created for the sharing and exchange of resources. MSHA, CSIRO, NIOSH, CIM and SME are the best candidates for creating such a plan. The most prominent occupational health and safety resources should be catalogued to align the similar material utilized in all three countries. This must be done by one of these organizations so that participation in the accumulation of resources from educational institutions and the mining industry is maximized.
  • Once available information has been catalogued, an online database of resources should be created and maintained to ensure that information on best industry practices in health and safety is easy to access and emulate. The database should contain all resources available from MSHA, CSIRO, NIOSH, SME and CIM, as well as all regulations and acts pertinent to health and safety in all countries. Access should be granted to all universities with mining and mineral resource programs. These schools should also be encouraged to participate in the sharing of their resources, and they should be capable of having a forum to discuss the information provided by other schools and of providing recommendations on reference materials and studies added by other institutions.
  • Universities in every country should utilize the resources provided by NIOSH, CSIRO, MSHA, CSIRO, NIOSH, CIM and SME. Additionally, each institution should require, but not be limited to, analysis of their provincial and federal occupational health and safety acts. SME’s Mine Health and Safety Management by Michael Karmis is the best candidate for a required textbook in all countries because of its emphasis on occupational health and safety in the mining sector.
  • A mining health and safety short course should be created and sponsored by a mining industry leader. This would allow schools without mandatory health and safety courses to integrate it into their curriculum quickly. It should be a one week course led by an adjunct professor – preferably a practicing engineer. The course’s focus should be on, but not limited to, state or provincial occupational health and safety legislation, workplace hazards and risks that result in ill health or death, and occupational health risk assessment and management.

The best way to improve safety in the future of the industry is to emphasize it: call on industry’s leaders and have them catalogue all of their information on the subject; make it available to students; and ensure that safety is mandatory in the education of mining professionals.

The effect of these changes can be measured by the monetary benefits attributed to fewer lost time injuries and illnesses and, most importantly, the lives saved as a result. While mines come and go, improving safety is a project we must continue, until the day that lost time injuries, illness and fatalities are completely eliminated from the industry.

Reference and source information is available upon request at

Michael_TutersMichael Tuters graduated from the Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining at Queen’s University in 2010.
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