Training tomorrow’s leaders to work safely

By , and |  October 22, 2018
Students learn about cap hook-ups at Missouri S&T. Photo courtesy of Anthony Konya

Students learn about cap hook-ups at Missouri S&T. Photo courtesy of Anthony Konya

The safety and health of all employees in the explosive and mining industries is of primary importance.

Innovative companies regularly look for ways to teach employees how to properly handle new technologies. Previous training methods included lectures, realistic videos, event simulations and supervised work in real conditions. But a gap existed between employees understanding the basic concepts and them jumping into the field.

The real problem was this: How can employees, specifically those who will be put into supervising and engineering positions, garner the right understanding of explosive safety without being put into harm’s way? At the Missouri University of Science and Technology, the answer is experiential learning, a method that’s applied to various courses.

About experiential learning

The process of experiential learning starts as any typical training session would, with lectures covering topics and interactive videos utilized. However, experiential learning is immediately followed up with hands-on instructor demonstrations that have students practice tasks.

The combination of these methods has shown to achieve memory retention of the topics learned by more than 75 percent.

As an example, in the Introduction to Mining Health and Safety course, which is offered to incoming freshmen mining engineering students, a heavy emphasis is placed on mine emergencies and mine evacuations – specifically following major emergencies such as explosions. But how can one effectively teach those who have never been in a mine the actual means and methods of an escape, much less simulate the feelings of fear and anxiety that arise following a mine disaster?

This is where experiential learning processes are put into place, teaching and showing students what they are learning. Initially, students are divided into groups, with each group having a supervisor and employees.

One student is selected to be the general manager, and that person is in charge of setting up ventilation controls in the Missouri S&T experimental mine. While they are busy working, fog machines are set up and the mine slowly fills with fog to simulate smoke. A mine emergency is called, and the groups must rally, escape and map their escape route for future mine rescue teams to find others who may be injured in the working area.

This approach has shown dramatic improvements in student understanding, not only of the means and methods, but also of the raw emotion felt in these situations.

A second example

Another course is the Principles of Explosive Engineering, in which mining engineering and explosive engineering students learn about the world of explosives. Students test, set up and initiate electric, non-electric and electronic caps; how to prime and blast dynamites and emulsions; how to jackleg drill and blast underground and surface rounds; and, most importantly, how to do all of these with safety being the top priority in a controlled learning environment.

One of the events in this process is solidifying the dangers of caps and why proper handling of caps is important. Telling someone that a cap is dangerous may not fully sink in, but a visual example exhibits to everyone watching the dangers at hand.

To simulate this, students are taught to set up a blasting cap. Instead of placing that in the sand or into a stick of explosive, the cap is placed under the wing of a rotisserie chicken, because the chicken wing has a similar bone density to that of a human hand.

The shot is wired up, and the cap is detonated after a few “fire in the chicken” calls. The students then get to truly observe the dangers of a cap.The benefits of experiential learning are profound, with improvements of memory retention by more than 1,500 percent from a traditional lecture. This approach also offers firsthand experiences to those learning about explosives without putting them into a full work situation.


Anthony Konya, Paul Worsey and Alexander Sibley are with Missouri S&T.

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