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Winners Announced in the 2020 NIOSH Mine Safety and Health Technology Innovations Awards

December 10, 2020
NIOSH Update:


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mining Program, in conjunction with the Industrial Minerals Association–North America (IMA-NA), the National Mining Association (NMA), and the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA), recognized four organizations in their respective industry sectors, some for developing new safety tools and systems, and others for instituting new health protocols to keep their workforce safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The four award categories are: industrial minerals, coal, metal, and stone, sand and gravel.

Genesis Alkali, LLC, won the industrial minerals award for implementing numerous innovative approaches to keep its workforce safe and operational throughout the pandemic. The company enhanced its IT infrastructure to allow office staff to work from home, and web-enabled tablets have allowed inspections to be shared live. Other innovations in work scheduling and use of virtual meetings prevent crowding in the mine and in offices, and non-essential visitors are kept offsite entirely. Filtering masks are both provided and mandated when workers are within six feet of others. Handwashing and social distancing are encouraged through signage and stickers, while enhanced cleaning protocols are followed throughout the facility.

In the coal category, the Matrix Design Group won the award for using artificial intelligence (AI) to prevent equipment collisions. Matrix Design developed a system that uses AI and machine learning to prevent collisions of mobile surface equipment, as well as collisions involving machines and workers. The system uses a network of rugged cameras paired with AI and computer vision technology to alert operators to blind spots and hazards. The adaptable system can be set as a Collision Warning System or as a Collision Avoidance System with controls to slow or stop equipment. Matrix partnered with River View Coal, LLC, to install the system on a haul truck and plans for more installations.

In the metal category, Freeport-McMoRan Inc. won for its Haul Truck Scorecard. Freeport-McMoRan Inc. paired multiple existing sensor technologies on haul trucks with big data technology to detect operator behaviors that fall outside of established safe operating practices. The company combined the technologies and a sophisticated algorithm into one application to identify opportunities for improvement. Using millions of data points generated daily by technologies across multiple mining sites allows Freeport-McMoRan to provide timely, relevant information back to haul truck operators, supervisors, and trainers. The company tested the application extensively both virtually and in the field with equipment operators, resulting in tremendous improvement in the health and safety of their operations.

And in the stone, sand, and gravel category, Suwannee American Cement won for also keeping its workforce safe and operational during the pandemic by using multiple innovations. Hygiene innovations include a touchless timeclock, touchless temperature stations, and conveniently located stations for hand washing and PPE. Employee contact is reduced through smaller work groups and directional workflows in common areas. Innovative procedures have been added for PPE usage requirements, special disinfecting technologies, and response protocols to COVID-positive situations. These innovations and other steps are communicated through text messaging, an e-newsletter, virtual meetings, and large video displays. Additionally, mandatory training has been moved online.

“The entire mining industry is fortunate to have many innovators that step up and create solutions to meet both new and existing challenges,” said NIOSH Associate Director for Mining Jessica Kogel, PhD.

The NIOSH Mining Program invites nominations throughout the year for its awards series, which offers awards in four mining industry sectors. For more information, visit the awards webpage.

NIOSH is the federal institute that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. For more information about NIOSH, visit