The plight of the modern coalminer

December 17, 2013 by Angela Herring
Open pit coal miners experience a unique version of whole body vibration using extremely large equipment. Credit: Thinkstock.

Open-pit coalminers face a unique set of occupational hazards. The dozers, dump trucks, and shovels they operate stand five or six stories tall and often sport tires two or three times their height.

Yes, the equipment allows the miners to move hundreds of tons of material at a time from the comfort of their ostensibly safe seats inside the cab. But the effect of the whole-body caused by operating heavy-duty vehicles has not been thoroughly studied, said Jack Dennerlein, a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy with an engineering background.

Significant data has already shown that people who sit in a vibrating environment for long periods of time are at higher risk for low back pain, which accounts for one of the largest disability claims in the United States. Understanding the mechanisms of the injury, and how to prevent it, Dennerlein said, is a critical public health concern.

"What we're doing is taking that knowledge and applying it to open pit mines, which have a very different type of whole body exposure," Dennerlein explained. "Miners are driving over roads that have just been made, they're getting dumped on, so the whole truck shakes, they're getting shock impulses—a whole different kind of vibration that people haven't studied before."

Backed by funding from the Alpha Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research to promote the health, wellness, and safety of miners, Dennerlein is hoping to change that. He and his team will add vibration sensors to the floors and seats of these heavy-duty vehicles to see how different seats respond to the stimuli.

Dennerlein will be looking at both active vibration cancelling systems and passive seat suspensions, with the hope of identifying one that is most successful at limiting whole body exposure, and thereby reducing low back pain.

In a pilot study, Dennerlein looked at the average overall vibration reaching the operator using standard techniques applied to drivers and pilots. This data strongly suggested what he expected—more exposure to vibration causes more injury. "But we really want to look at the peak, acute exposures," said Dennerlein, noting that the miner is more prone to experience shock impulses than someone driving on the freeway for a few hours.

With data from his forthcoming study, in addition to the driving and health records of the miners, Dennerlein hopes to build a model that could predict future health outcomes based on their exposure to .

Explore further: Shoulder pain from using your iPad? Don't use it on your lap

Related Stories

Shoulder pain from using your iPad? Don't use it on your lap

January 24, 2012

The sudden popularity of tablet computers such as the Apple iPad has not allowed for the development of guidelines to optimize users' comfort and well-being. In a new study published in Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, ...

Early predictors of occupational back reinjury identified

January 22, 2013

(HealthDay)—About 25 percent of workers with back injury report reinjury after returning to work, with risk factors including male sex, previous similar injury, and having health insurance, according to a study published ...

Virtual vehicle vibrations

February 11, 2013

"Sit up straight in your chair!" That command given by countless parents to their children may one day be delivered by vehicle designers to a robot that is actually a computerized model of a long-distance truck driver or ...

Whole body vibration therapy increases bone strength

June 17, 2013

A treatment known as whole body vibration therapy significantly increases bone strength among adolescents with cerebral palsy, a new clinical trial from New Zealand shows. The results were presented Saturday at The Endocrine ...

Recommended for you

Older people getting smarter, but not fitter

August 31, 2015

Older populations are scoring better on cognitive tests than people of the same age did in the past —a trend that could be linked to higher education rates and increased use of technology in our daily lives, say IIASA population ...

Higher intelligence score means better physical performance

August 14, 2015

New research reveals a distinct association between male intelligence in early adulthood and their subsequent midlife physical performance. The higher intelligence score, the better physical performance, the study reveals. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.