Mine rescue volunteers urged to "get fitter"

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Mine rescue work "highly demanding" with risk of heat stress and cardiovascular event

Person talking in front of slide show presentationResearcher Sandra Dorman recommended Ontario establish “a fitness standard that’s exactly in line with some of the fitness standards some of the other countries are using.” Germany, Poland, and South Africa are among the countries with mine rescue fitness standards.

“We need to develop a fitness program that all mine rescue personnel are involved in,” said Dorman, director of the Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health (CROSH) at Laurentian University. “That fitness program needs to be mandatory. It also needs to be monitored.”

Dorman summarized the findings and recommendations of research by CROSH into the physical effects of mine rescue activities on responders at the 2016 International Mines Rescue Competition (IMRC) in Sudbury. The research was published in March by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Mine rescue fitness research

A mandatory fitness program, Dorman said, is “in agreement” with the 2015 Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review that “a fitness standard needs to be implemented.”

“Each worker should have individualized fitness goals identified and provided to them so that they are tailoring the fitness program,” she said.

“Those goals need to include an aerobics fitness component, and a per cent body fat component, a core body strength and grip strength.” The program should also include regular medical and fitness evaluations.

“We need to do periodic followup to make sure that their goals are being achieved and or maintained, and to me the key goal of this is to prevent heart attack and also to prevent heat stroke,” Dorman said.

The CROSH research at the IMRC involved volunteers wearing a monitoring device and ingesting a thermometric pill to provide real time vital signs, including heart and respiration rates, and core body temperature.

The results were worrisome, clearly demonstrating that “mine rescue work is highly demanding with high risk of a heat stress or a cardiovascular event,” Dorman said.

Of the 76 participants involved in the study, 37 reached or exceeded their maximum heart rate, and 17 had core body temperatures that exceeded 39 degrees Celsius, falling just short of the 40-degree criteria used to define heat stroke. Heat exhaustion, including confusion and loss of consciousness, can occur at 38 degrees.

“The current methodology of trying to assess whether someone is having a heat stress event,” Dorman said, “counting on them to be honest and upfront about that in an extremely stressful situation is not sufficient.

“And if the captain has to make that decision and their core temperature is getting up, they may not be making the best decision.”

The study also recommended mine rescue responders have body-worn monitors capable of relaying physiological measures in real-time to the briefing officer, and that responders be screened and treated for heat stress after training exercises and emergencies.

The research is available for download at the Journal for Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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