Underground mining operations around the world pose similar risks to worker safety and health. Though different techniques are used to extract base metals, precious metals, nonmetallic minerals, diamonds and coal, the hazards do not differ that much. The deeper the mine, however, the greater the risk.
Safety Challenges in Underground Mines
According to the United States Department of Labor, Mining Health and Safety Administration (MHSA), 70 percent of mine accidents in the U.S, are related to using heavy machinery and other equipment at the worksite. Among the top ten most cited causal factors contributing to accidents in 2012 were: lack of safety training; hazard communication; machine guarding; lockout/tagout precautions; and electrical wiring.
What You Can Do to Reduce Risk
Fortunately modern equipment, more automated mining techniques, and better mine engineering have significantly reduced some of these safety risks, leading global mine operators to incorporate rigorous safety procedures and health and safety standards, while taking a proactive approach to worker education and training.
While improvements have been made and much more is known about the dangers and the risks, it makes sense to periodically evaluate your safety strategy to ensure you’re doing all you can to provide the safest, most up-to-date work environment possible. While the list below may seem obvious, it never hurts to revisit your safety program. Here’s a checklist of reminders to consider when re-evaluating your safety program for an underground mine.
Illumination For general tunneling operations, the MHSA requires a minimum illumination intensity of 5 foot-candles, although 10 foot-candles must be provided for shaft heading during drilling, mucking and scaling. Check all lamps regularly.
Check all signage to make sure it’s highly visible and legible.
Communications Make sure all telephones and other signaling devices are fully operational at all times. These devices can be critical in the event of an unexpected incident or accident.
Equipment Maintenance Routine equipment checks and maintenance programs ensure that equipment and vehicles used in the mine or on the mining site are performing properly and reliably, and do not pose any dangers to their operators or workers nearby.
Fall Protection While typically not a major issue in underground mines, working at different heights is sometimes required in mountainous mines or raised goldmines where ladders and scaffolds are needed. In these situations, make sure you have the proper harnesses, belts and other safeguards to prevent falling.
Ventilation and Alarm Systems Air quality sensors and alarms should be in top working order and able to detect irregular levels of Carbon Monoxide (CO) and other potentially toxic fumes, vapors and gases. Make sure you have a regularly scheduled maintenance and testing plan for this equipment.
Worker Identification and Check-In Check-Out Systems
Mine operators must know the location of every worker at every moment of each shift. Double-check your worker identification and check-in/check-out system.
Emergency and Evacuation Plans
Periodic disaster evacuation drills and testing emergency communication and signaling systems prepares workers on what to do if there’s an emergency. Emergency gear, such as HAZMAT suits and breathing apparatus should be available for first responders and rescue teams.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Experienced miners know what gear they need to prevent or at least minimize injuries on the job. For newcomers, however, it’s important to include information on selecting PPE in their training. Manufacturers of PPE have made significant improvements in the materials they use. Take a look at what you’re using for PPE. It might be time for change.
Protective Clothing This may include rain gear, head gear, high-visibility jackets and coveralls, flash-rated, all-cotton coveralls and clothing with reflective stripes such as those worn by bikers and runners.
Work Gloves Special tasks require specific gloves. Today’s glove manufacturers have made significant improvements in glove designs, using lighter-weight and more breathable fabrics. Some if these materials even offer better cut and puncture resistance. Take a look at the gloves your workers are using. There may be better options available.
Footwear Enhancements in footwear have made industrial footwear even better. Today’s work boots are higher to prevent ankle rollover. Specially insulated boots can protect feet in both extreme cold and heat. Sole platforms are now wider and thicker to provide surer footing and better balance.
Eye Protection In addition to LED-lighted hard hats, many miners require safety glasses. Today’s eyewear designs include improved scratch abrasion and fog resistance.
Hearing Protection Mine blasting and excessive noise generated by diesel-powered equipment can cause lasting damage to miners’ hearing. Hearing protection in the form of earplugs and coverings can be used, depending on the ambient decibel levels in work areas.
Building a Safer Worksite Is Good Business
To be successful, safety best practices in any organization must be deeply ingrained into the corporate culture and supported from top management on down through the ranks. Safety is truly everybody’s job. This is especially important in mining and other high-risk industries where safety awareness and consistency are essential in helping to prevent accidents, injuries and fatalities.
Mine managers and individual miners need to adhere strictly to operational safety procedures. Employers need to provide the right tools and training to every employee to protect the life, health and safety of the workforce, as well as to protect valuable worksites and assets. As leading mining organizations already know, creating a safe working environment means a more productive and profitable mining operation. It also leads to higher levels of worker morale and job satisfaction, which in turn improves employee retention. Taking a holistic view toward improving worker safety education and safe work practices is a sound business investment that pays dividends for long-term success.
- “Good Practice Guidance on Occupational Health Risk Assessment.” International Council on Mining & Metals. February 25, 2010.
- BP. BP Statistical Review of World Energy. June 2012. bp.com/statisticalreview
- U.S. Department of Labor’s Mining Health & Safety Administration (MHSA). http://www.msha.gov/
- OSHA. www.osha.gov.
- http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/coal-statistics/ http://www.iea.org/