While it is important that all mine workers prepare for emergencies, having well prepared mine rescue teams is also critical. During an emergency, mine rescue teams may have to navigate through complex, changing and otherwise challenging environments. To prepare for this reality, mine rescue teams must undergo extensive federally mandated training.

A mine rescue team in the NIOSH Virtual Immersion and Simulation Laboratory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Although the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) sets minimum standards for training frequency, many mining companies exceed these requirements by developing additional internal policies and/or setting higher standards for training. As a result, mine rescue team members can possess a wide range of mine emergency response knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs).

In addition to teams having the KSAs needed to perform their duties, research across various types of emergency response teams (e.g., firefighters and hospital trauma units) suggests that several team-related factors (e.g., decisiveness, cooperation and trust) also influence team performance in real-world emergency situations (Marks, Mathieu, & Zaccaro, 2001; Schaafstal, Johnston, & Oser, 2001). Because of the connection to these factors, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) explored this issue with mine rescue teams and identified several factors that might influence mine rescue team performance.

What Did We Do?

Ten mine rescue teams with a wide range of training backgrounds and emergency response experiences volunteered to visit the NIOSH Virtual Immersion and Simulation Laboratory (VISLab) to participate in ongoing mine rescue training research. Each team participated in sessions in which they responded to simulated mine emergencies in a virtual reality environment and the mine rescue scenarios were similar to those created for mine rescue contests. After orientation and practice with the virtual immersion and simulation technology, team members were given a briefing on a fictional mine rescue problem and instructed to approach it as they would in “real life.” A 30-minute after-action debriefing followed the completion of the exercise.

Team members were asked to complete written questionnaires both before and after completing the exercise. To learn about issues that could impact team performance, each team member was asked several questions about the factors listed below. A few example questions follow each factor listed below.

Team Familiarity: How familiar team members are with each other and how well they understand the responsibilities of other team members’ roles. This factor was of particular interest because team familiarity has been linked to team performance outcomes in previous emergency team-based research (Huckman & Staats, 2011). The answers to all three of the following questions were measured on a five-point scale ranging from “not at all” to “frequently or always” prior to participation in the exercise. The average of the team members’ responses was used to determine level of “team familiarity.”

“On average, how often do your team’s members…

  • See each other at work?
  • See each other outside of work or training?
  • Spend at least part of your training time cross-training in each other’s team roles?”

Team Training Climate: How mine rescue team members view the support they receive from their organizations for training activities. The more that team member collectively agreed with these statements, the more supportive their team training climate was believed to (Bauerle & Mallett, 2013). This factor was also measured prior to participation in the exercise using five-point scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” Again, the average of each team member’s responses was used to determine each team’s reported level of supportiveness of “team training climate.”

“Our mine rescue team training provides opportunities for…

  • Constructive feedback from instructors.
  • Practice with equipment used in a real emergency