“Although the mining industry employs only 1% of the global labour force, it generates 8% of all fatal accidents.”
Cave-ins, explosions, toxic air, and extreme temperatures are some of the most extreme hazards to occur in underground mining. However, mining doesn’t have to be unsafe if the correct training is given and the correct protective equipment is worn when on-site, the accidents should be minimised. The advances in safety equipment have also seen the fatality rate fall. Understanding and being aware of your surroundings is a crucial step to preventing injury on site. We have listed a number of risks to be aware of:
Mine Explosions – The worst mine disaster to take place in Europe was directly caused by methane and dust. 1,099 miners were killed in Northern France on March 10, 1906. Thankfully this is a rare occurrence however sadly when it does happen, it causes catastrophic damage and the highest number of casualties. Due to the confined spaces within a mine, it is important to be aware of the many dangerous gasses which include hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide, methane, and carbon dioxide. These gasses when they cannot escape a build-up may occur, which is why it is so important to ensure proper ventilation is in place so that this does not happen. Limestone can also be used to prevent coal and dust explosions.
Cave-Ins – When it comes to mines, they can be unpredictable and the risk of cave-ins is always something the workers must be aware of. Actions as little as the vibrations from footsteps or people talking can lead to these catastrophic events. The collapsing of a mine can lead to people becoming crushed or trapped alive. Although mines have become a lot more structurally sound due to supporting pillars and the strict safety assessments that must be carried out before work can even begin in any mine, there is still work to be done when it comes to improving this hazard.
Poor Air Quality – Dust or coal inhalation is one of the most common risks for a miner and it can develop into what has been referred to as “miners’ lung” or “black lung”. This form of occupational disease is linked to pneumoconiosis. However, companies have had measures in place to avoid this for a number of years, it is still a cause for concern. Understanding safety procedures and implementing a dust control plan is the first step and then training the staff to follow such procedures and avoid risk where possible.
Noise – When working in mines it is a loud environment and although many workers get used to the volume of noise over time, it does not mean long-term damage may not occur. This type of injury happens slowly over an extended period of time and many do not notice till it is too late. To protect your employees, it is important you supply the workforce with protective equipment and to reduce the noise you should ensure regular maintenance is carried out on the machinery.
Whole Body Vibration – Working with heavy machinery can take a toll on the workers physically. Although not all vibrations are dangerous, when surfaces are not even they can become unsafe. The risks that come with WBV include musculoskeletal disorder, cardiovascular changes, reproductive damage in women and vision impairment. In order to avoid this occurring, the best preventative steps would be to repair potholes, minimising transport and alternating the machine operators often or using machines that are able to be remotely controlled.
UV Exposure – When working in an open-pit mine the risk of overexposure to ultraviolet radiation is a serious cause for concern, therefore the miners must understand the dangers. The main worry is that you are at a higher risk of getting skin cancer and permanent eye damage. The short-term implications include dehydration, headaches and nausea. A full risk evaluation should be carried out and safety measures should be put in place accordingly. Some of the most effective solutions include working in natural or artificial shade, wearing correct equipment, avoid work at the hottest point in the day and ensure all employees are trained in UV exposure risks.
Thermal stress – Mines can be very hot and humid and when working in hot climates this is heightened, which can lead to thermal or heat stress in the workforce. The human body can become fatigued and distressed when working in this environment which can lead to more serious health conditions. Prevention of this is to supply the workforce with respiratory protective equipment and a uniform that is suitable for such conditions that may include a cooling system.
Slips and Falls – Not only is it important to ensure your workers don’t fall there is also the risk of any machinery falling onto your employees. To avoid this, it is a must that all holes are guarded, risk assessments are carried out, PPE is worn, and extra safety measures are in place when operating in extreme weather conditions.