Monday, January 17, 2011

United Mine Workers of America Coal Mining Training Simulator

Here's a great example of a virtual training simulator being used by an industry that you might not think of right away when it comes to simulation-based training, but one that makes perfect sense when you think about it.

The United States mining industry, which is dominated by coal, reported a total market cap of approximately $962 billion dollars in 2007. Competing in a total global market cap of privately traded companies of approximately $50 trillion dollars. In addition to large financial risks being at stake during every operation, mining is one of the most dangerous and accident-prone businesses to engage in, clearly an industry where the training of operators is of paramount importance.

UMWA Mining Technology and Training Center

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Mining Technology and Training Center, in Greene Country, PA, is a $4.3 million dollar facility that is dedicated to training coal miners how to do their jobs more safely. Through the use of safe and cost effective simulators, trainees are able to repeatedly attempt maneuvers that in the real-world are dangerous and have the potential of causing costly delays or bodily harm.

Developed for the UMWA in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, the project has been evaluated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

This Pittsburgh Tribune Review article quotes Launa Mallett, Lead Research Scientist at the University of Pittsburgh's Occupational Safety and Health Laboratory:
"We looked at other industries. We know training in virtual environments has been used successfully in the military and medical fields. So we tailor-made a program for mine training."
Another quote in the article is from Joseph DeSalvo, who uses the training simulator as part of a six week training program at the Union Training Center:
“In approximately three hours with the navigation program, I can teach coal miners how to get around underground as well as it would take them six months to learn on the job. That’s why I use it."
Mallett says that MSHA has plans to evolve the simulator so that trainees can practice emergency tasks like evacuations and rescues. This type of training and level of preparedness is essential for those working in hazardous environments typical to the coal mining industry. Simulation-based training allows organizations to virtually expose their employees to potentially dangerous situations to train them on correct procedures, without exposing them to the serious risks they'll face in the real world. Workers are able to gain skills and become competent with expensive equipment by training in a simulated environment, avoiding the need to take real-world equipment out of production.

Simulators reduce the risk of training for jobs in dangerous environments, and reduce the overall costs associated with training for those jobs.
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