National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) researchers compiled a fairly comprehensive list of 45 self-escape competencies that were organized into the following categories: knowing something, where to find something, how to use something, how to decide something, and what to do before beginning an evacuation (Peters & Kosmoski, 2013). Some of the critical self-escape competencies identified in this list are below:

  • Self-Contained-Self-Rescue (SCSR) donning and switching.
  • Realistic expectations about using SCSRs (e.g., breathing resistance).
  • The five tactile shapes on a lifeline and what they mean.
  • Firefighting skills.
  • How the mine ventilation system functions and ventilation leakage.
  • Primary and secondary escape routes from mines.
  • How to understand and read a mine map.
  • Communication systems.
  • Barricading.
  • Realistic expectations about using refuge chambers.

Knowing the best ways to train and sustain these competencies is fundamental to ensuring the self-escape of mine workers during an emergency. To that end, NIOSH researchers interviewed nine mine safety trainers to learn more about the subject area of mine safety training, evaluation, what gaps exist in mine safety training, and how they can be addressed to improve mine workers’ SEC. Trainers were dispersed across four states and had a combined total of 154 years of mine safety training experience. Six of the participants transitioned from a career in underground coal mining to safety training and five had experience training mine rescue teams, showcasing their subject matter expertise regarding safety issues in the coal mining industry. Based on the gaps these trainers identified, suggestions are offered to help those who train coal miners improve the content and evaluation of their safety trainings.

Question: How should you train miners on self-escape competencies?
Answer: Use realistic training environments to develop skills.

  • Include simulated activities or hypothetical scenarios in trainings and individually evaluate miners throughout these training activities.
  • Prioritize tasks and allow time for miners to participate in simulated or hands-on trainings for the most crucial self-escape competencies, such as donning an SCSR. Prioritization helps address the time restraint often present in new miner and annual refresher trainings.

Question: How should you evaluate miners’ self-escape competencies?
Answer: Choose the evaluation method based on the competency being trained.

  • Orally question groups or administer a written exam when evaluating whether or not a miner knows something or has proficient knowledge. For example, knowing the properties of mine gases can be evaluated by a written test and follow-up discussion with an individual or group of miners.
  • Watch the miner or group perform a specific task when evaluating whether or not a miner knows how to use something. For example, donning an SCSR is a task that individual miners should be able to demonstrate tactile skills in operating; this would warrant individual-level assessment via watching a task demonstration.
  • Orally question each miner when evaluating how individuals make a decision during a particular emergency. For example, when deciding which escapeway to use during an emergency, each miner should know what factors to consider.
  • Use behavioral evaluations over written evaluations, if possible (see NIOSH, 2015, for examples).
  • Use individual-level evaluations, when possible. Although watching small groups is sufficient for activities that would be performed in groups during an emergency, such as tethering and walking out in smoke, it is not preferred for evaluating individual competence. One trainer said:

“Individual demonstrations, in most cases, are better than group demonstrations, apart from escape routes, refuge chambers, and tethering, which are group decisions. The latter decisions (escape routes, taking refuge, tethering) are made by groups and are best evaluated by observing a group. But more often than not, trainers should evaluate on an individual basis. If miners are in a group, one can sit back and do nothing, and absorb nothing.”

Question: How can you improve your training evaluation methods?
Answer: Use standard evaluation tools across trainings and debrief all training activities.

  • Use robust evaluation tools such as behavioral checklists or behavioral observation scales to help assess each individual miner during trainings.
  • Create a cumulative sheet for each miner that documents scores for each activity to provide to their respective mine. Note any deficiencies that should be further developed during on-the-job training.
  • Encourage each individual to participate in every training activity, if possible, to avoid overlooking deficiencies of an individual.
  • Discuss and ask follow-up questions after each activity that miners complete because simulated activities are not self-teaching. Discussion time allows miners to reflect on their decisions, hear what other trainees’ perspectives are, and decide whether or not they would choose an alternative approach in the future.

Standard evaluation tools (examples provided in NIOSH, 2015) can be created for a variety of scenario-based activities that may be necessary during an emergency such as taking refuge, wayfinding or reading a mine map. In addition, they provide a more accurate assessment method for trainers who are not as active in the industry anymore and thus, not as familiar with newer mining equipment and technology, such as using refuge chambers.

Question: How can self-escape competencies be maintained after training?
Answer: Increase frequency of assessment efforts after training.

For Trainers

  • Emphasize the importance of continuing discussions and asking questions on the job to support the maintenance of miners’ self-escape skills. For example, discussing the importance of learning about their specific mine and even providing prospective miners with possible questions to ask management and coworkers, such as what are the alternative escape routes and how to use communication devices specific to their mine.
  • Inform mine site leadership if a specific trainee had problems demonstrating expertise during a task, allowing the mine to work with the individual upon entering the workforce.

For Mine Sites

  • Conduct follow-up exercises at each mine to help new miners become more comfortable communicating and making decisions with their coworkers to manage emergencies; maintain skills they acquired during training; and learn the nuances of their specific mine.
  • Communicate with mine organizations to inform management what skills new miners, in general, seem to have trouble with and how mine leadership can follow up to better instill specific skills. A standardized evaluation protocol or behavioral checklist, referenced earlier, could serve as a primary communication tool between these two parties.
  • Improving competency evaluation methods may: better prepare miners for situations that require self-escape, help identify gaps in current training protocols, and support the need for additional training resources. They offered several suggestions that mine organizations and safety trainers can begin integrating into current mine safety trainings. Although these suggestions begin closing some gaps in mine safety training and evaluation, there are still several methods that should be explored and subsequently validated to further enhance miners’ abilities to self-escape. NIOSH Office of Mine Safety and Health Research continue to address the issue of how to improve miners’ abilities to self-escape from mine emergencies so that in the future, additional methods, tools and recommendations can be provided to the industry.

Peters, R., & Kosmoski, C. (2013). Are your coal miners prepared to self-escape? Coal Age, 118(1), 26–28.

NIOSH (2015). Enhancing Mine Workers’ Self-escape by Integrating Competency Assessment into Training. By Haas EJ, Peters RH and Kosmoski CL. Pittsburgh, PA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication 2015–188, RI 9699.