safety procedures, and guidelines developed by the Mining Program is of critical importance.
Major incidents and disasters. Major mine incidents with disaster potential, and mine disasters (e.g., the Quecreek No. 1 Mine non-fatal inundation incident, the Sago Mine explosion disaster), have the potential to affect a research program by creating an urgent need to answer newly framed questions through research. A number of new research initiatives to support either temporary or proposed rules may result, and research priorities may be reordered. The Quecreek incident led directly to mine inundation and void detection research. The Sago Mine disaster has led to enhanced funding of research on in-mine communications and escape and survival research.
Political environment. A supportive political environment is essential to the successful development and implementation of NIOSH technologies and recommendations. As a federal agency, funding for the Mining Program is decided annually. The political environment also contributes to the passage of legislation or the development of new regulations critical to the Mining Program and the successful implementation of its research outputs.
Mining technology and conditions. Major shifts generally occur over an extended period. In the underground coal sector, for example, mines are deeper and shifting to larger panels and high-productivity longwall systems. The increased contribution of surface-mined coal to total production and the growing size of equipment also affect health and safety trends. The introduction of new lixiviants3 in hydrometallurgy and of bioagents to facilitate the leaching of metal may create new hazards (NRC, 2002). Changing demographics in mining are reflected in an aging workforce and an increasing number of contract hours. These changes bring with them the necessity and opportunity for innovation by mining companies, equipment manufacturers, and government agencies to protect the health and safety of miners.
Market forces. In a free-enterprise society with many small producers, there is little control over prices. This is particularly true in the metallic sector and somewhat true in the coal and nonmetallic sectors. Long periods of depressed prices affect investment in research, new equipment, employment, and production. Spot increases in prices can lead to the opening of new mines or reopening of closed mines, with potential health and safety concerns. The mining industry experiences these forces in a somewhat cyclic, but not entirely predictable, manner.