Reducing Hazards In Mining

Mining is one of the riskier work place environments. The industry has cleaned up their act a lot over the past few decades but mining employees are still exposed to a number of health risks on an almost daily basis. We take a brief look at some of these and what is being done to help alleviate them.

But first a piece of advice. Understand your environment and be aware of what is going on around you. That way you'll not only spot the hazards but it will become second nature to take precautionary measures in the workplace.

Dust

Mine sites are synonymous with dust. Dust, dust everywhere…. Even the most harmless of dust gets to be a problem when you're breathing it in constantly. However, some types of dust are toxic. Like the coal dust you'll find in coal mining operations. Coal dust can cause 'miner's lung' or 'black lung', a type of pneumoconiosis, or an occupational lung disease. Symptoms are shortness of breath and scarring in the lung tissue. This latter problem can cause ongoing respiratory problems.

There has been legislation around black lung for years but even so the odd new case still crops up. This means that some companies are apparently not taking all the precautions they should be. Measures to control coal dust, or any dust, and ensure employee safety include:

  • ​Dust control systems; these should be checked prior to every shift to ensure they're working properly.
  • Ensuring all workers exposed to coal dust, even in minute quantities, wear protective respiratory gear
  • Providing medical screening and surveillance.
  • Training miners on the hazards of coal dust exposure.

Chemicals

Chemicals are a common occupational hazard on mine sites because they're used in so many mining processes. Some of them are relatively harmless whilst others are extremely toxic. Health risks run the gauntlet from chemical burns to poisoning and respiratory problems.

Preventative measures:

  • Providing and ensuring protective equipment rated for use with the chemicals in question is being used
  • Providing employee education around each of the chemicals to ensure they're handled and used in strict accordance with manufacturer specifications.
  • Development of emergency spill response plans along with drills and training
  • Ensuring adequate ventilation in areas where chemicals are being used, particularly if the chemical should not be inhaled.
  • Implementing proper disposal systems for empty containers and excess or waste chemicals. 
  • Implementing good housekeeping procedures around cleanliness 
  • Providing safe storage facilities in accordance with relevant legislation.

Noise

Noise is another type of pollution and mine sites are full of noise. Earth moving equipment is noisy, drilling rigs are noisy, blasting is noisy. It's also easy to get complacent about noise because after a while you don't notice it. However, that doesn't mean it isn't damaging your hearing. And sometimes the damage can take years to become apparent. Problems like tinnitus, hearing loss, issues with concentration and disturbed sleep are examples of hearing problems caused by too much exposure to excessively loud noise.

Preventative measures:

  • Employees working in or around noisy environments should be equipped with adequate hearing protection (ear plugs) and steps taken to ensure they use it. 
  • They should also be given appropriate health and safety training. 
  • Conduct regular risk assessments that measure noise levels and evaluate employee exposure to those noises. 
  • Implementing controls like absorption panels or vibration dampeners at the source of the noise or along the noise path. 
  • Keeping equipment correctly maintained to reduce noise. 

Whole Body Vibration

Whole body vibration is caused through working on heavy machinery that vibrates heavily in certain ways. Notably machinery operating on uneven ground or ripping ground. It's also something that can't be taken lightly because it can cause some quite serious health problems. Notably musculoskeletal disorders, impaired vision, digestive issues, damage to the reproductive tract in women and even cardiovascular changes. Employees that experience health issues like back pain should be carefully monitored.


Preventative measures:

  • Reducing shift lengths for workers using this equipment 
  • Replacing human manned equipment with remotely controlled versions. 
  • Ongoing assessment and maintenance of the environments in which these vehicles are used so as to reduce potential causes of unnecessary vibration. Maintaining roads so they cause less vibration for example. 
  • Providing instruction and training in the correct use of the machinery, and around ways employees can minimise the vibrations during operation.  

Musculoskeletal disorders​

Musculoskeletal disorders are reasonably common in the mining industry and are often caused by things like repetitive heavy lifting, tripping or falling.

Preventative measures:

  • Conducting regular health and safety audits to identify and rectify potential causes of MSDs
  • Controlling employee exposure to MSD hazards
  • Training employees around correct procedures for activities like heavy lifting in order to reduce the likelihood of injury

Exposure to UV

Exposure to UV is a topic we've discussed in another article. Many mine sites are located in sunny climates where workers are exposed to the sun for hours at a time. UV over-exposure is a leading cause of skin cancers and it can also damage eyes. Working for long periods in hot conditions can cause dehydration and sunstroke.

Preventative measures include conducting regular risk assessment programs aimed at evaluating employee UV exposure and taking appropriate measures as indicated to reduce it. These measures may include:

  • Providing adequate UV protective shade
  • Altering shifts so employees are not working outside or are working in the shade during the peak UV hours in the middle of the day
  • Supplying sunscreen and protective eye wear
  • Employee education around the risks of over exposure to UV and how they can minimise risks.

Thermal stress

Thermal stress, also known as heat stress, goes hand in glove with over exposure to UV light in the sense that where you have the potential for one, you'll generally have the potential for the other. Being overexposed to heat and humidity increases the chances of becoming de-hydrated, distressed and fatigued. Heat stroke is not a nice thing to have.

Preventative measures:

Where mine sites are located in areas where heat stress may occur, regular ongoing assessments of the working environment must be conducted. These assessments need to include factors like the working climate, the rate of work being done (hard, slow, easy, fast), the clothing being worn and any respiratory protective equipment that is being used.

  • Use mechanical aids to reduce the rate at which employees are working
  • Strictly regulate the length of time employees are working in that environment
  • Control the temperature if possible
  • Provide employees with cooling, breathable clothing 
  • Provide training around working in hot, humid environments and heat stressEnter your text here ...
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Saturday, 31 July 2021
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