The plight of the modern coalminer

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 .

Related Stories

Virtual vehicle vibrations

date Feb 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 ...

Whole body vibration therapy increases bone strength

date Jun 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 ...

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

date Jan 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, an ...

Recommended for you

Noise from fireworks threatens young ears

date Jul 03, 2015

(HealthDay)—The Fourth of July weekend is a time for celebrations and beautiful fireworks displays. But, parents do need to take steps to protect their children's ears from loud fireworks, a hearing expert ...

Many new teen drivers 'crash' in simulated driving task

date Jul 03, 2015

(HealthDay)—Around four in 10 newly licensed teen drivers "crashed" in a simulated driving test, suggesting that many adolescents lack the skills they need to stay safe on the road, according to a new study.

Insurer Aetna to buy Humana in $35B deal

date Jul 03, 2015

Aetna will spend about $35 billion to buy rival Humana and become the latest health insurer bulking up on government business as the industry adjusts to the federal health care overhaul.

Feeling impulsive or frustrated? Take a nap

date Jul 03, 2015

Taking a nap may be an effective strategy to counteract impulsive behavior and to boost tolerance for frustration, according to a University of Michigan study.

User 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.