This year has seen a rise in the price of nickel with a related increase in nickel mining activity. Increased investment means the establishment of new mines and even the reopening of old mines that were previously unprofitable. The value of nickel stems from the element’s versatility. It is used in everything from rechargeable batteries, coins, steel, magnets, and guitar strings. Its use in rechargeable batteries is what has driven the increased demand, with smartphones and personal electronic devices requiring nickel for their batteries. The expected boom in electric cars is another large contributing factor. And although nickel can be recycled and reused from existing sources, hundreds of thousands of tons of nickel need to be mined every year to meet global demand.
The Philippines, Indonesia, Russia, Canada and Australia are the world’s largest producers of nickel. Automation is used extensively in mining operations in these countries, but contractors are still required for the bulk of on-site tasks. Mines are hazardous workplaces, so you need to implement the right safety procedures or risk putting workers at risk. When you onboard your contractors, ensure they receive a quality orientation. Online systems allow you to include information on workplace hazards and correct safety practices to follow to avoid injury. There are a wide variety of hazards in nickel mining, and metal mining in general.
Protective Personal Equipment (PPE)
Nickel mining takes place underground and there are general equipment requirements associated with this occupation. You are required to provide your workers: Head protection, cap lamps, eye and face protection, respiratory protection, hearing protection, skin protection, foot protection, clothing, belts and harnesses, protection from heat and cold, and other protective equipment. If it all possible, hazards should be eliminated. However, as this is not always possible, it’s vital to have the right PPE procedures in place to protect workers.
Digital technology means that there is a wide variety of new and powerful safety equipment. For example, headgear is available that allows for two-way communication between a worker and supervisor. Not every mining company will use this equipment because of the upfront cost. Whatever equipment you choose to use to keep your workers safe, it is imperative that all your contractors are trained and practiced in using it correctly.
Explosives in Nickel Mining
Explosives are often used in metal mining to create openings in underground mines. The presence of explosives presents an obvious risk to workers. One mistake can lead to an accident with potentially disastrous consequences for any workers in the area. Only experienced workers who have received the proper training should ever handle explosives as it’s quite a specialized task.
Another real concern is keeping these explosives secure and out of the hand of criminals. This is for the safety of not just your workers, but the general public too. Here are some steps you should take to ensure your explosives don’t fall into the wrong hands:
- Inspect and verify that each magazine is properly secured according to MSHA/ATF regulations as well as manufacturers recommendations.
- Report missing explosives immediately.
- Ensure that any vehicle used to transport explosives is properly secured and attended.
- Verify that inventories of explosives are correct and that a copy is maintained in the magazines with a duplicate at the mine office.
- Verify any person’s identity before allowing them to enter explosive magazines or review inventory records.
- Review security measures at your facility to determine if further measures are necessary to protect explosives from theft.
- Verify that telephone numbers for the proper authorities are posted at conspicuous locations.
- Periodically inspect magazines for evidence of tampering or theft.
- Hold safety meetings with all employees to alert them to these activities and the reason for them.
Because of heavy machinery, mines are noisy workplaces. In most cases, it is not one particularly loud thing that does the damage. Rather it is extended exposure to noise that causes worker’s harm. As always, the first step should be to try and eliminate the hazards. However, as nickel mining is often dependent on heavy machinery, this may not be possible. Regular maintenance can help equipment run more smoothly and reduce noise levels. At the very least every worker should have access to PPE (e.g. custom molded earplugs) to protect their hearing and should be instructed to wear it all times there is noise above a certain decibel level.
Mine Emergency Response Plan (MERP)
Even if you have put in place a comprehensive safety training program, and eliminated and reduce as many hazards as is possible, there is still the possibility of accidents and injuries.
Don’t get complacent.
Planning for the possibility of accidents can help reduce the risk of injury. Each mine is different, but the goal of a emergency response is the same; to get every mine worker out safely.
Risk assessments are a requirement that allows management to formulate an emergency response. Evacuation is the key to success in any mining emergency so plan this out in advance and ensure all your workers are aware of the procedure. Include the details in your safety orientations along with maps of the mine. In nickel mining and most kinds of underground mining, the goal is usually to get to the surface as soon as possible. Do regular training exercises, so your workers are well drilled on what to do in the event of an emergency. Consistent training can be the difference between life and death.
Musculoskeletal Injuries (MSDs)
The job of a mining worker usually contains a lot of manual labor, such as carrying, lifting, and shoveling, which poses potential risks for workers. Manual labor can lead to slips, trips, falls, back injuries, knee injuries, and various other MSDs which account for approximately a third of all injuries in mining. Another factor in the prevalence of MSDs in nickel mining is the common and harmful repetitive use of machinery. Maintaining the same posture while working over a long stretch of time can lead to MSDs and repetitive strain injury.
Whole body vibration can occur when an individual is working on a surface that is vibrating. Hand-arm vibration enters the body through the hands and is caused by grasping vibrating tools or equipment. Injuries stemming from vibration include musculoskeletal injuries, neurological injuries, and a variety of vascular injuries. Injuries are most likely to occur after long-term use so workers should be trained to be aware of these risks and of correct working practices, such as using a light but safe grip.
The best way to improve safety is to eliminate as many workplace hazards as you can. However, the reality of mines is that there are some hazards you can’t eliminate but can only attempt to control, or mitigate. Key to this is providing workers with the right PPE and training to prepare them for on-site risks. Younger workers are more likely to be injured than their older compatriots so your focus should be on providing thorough orientations before a worker steps foot on-site.
An online platform like GoContractor is the best solution for training your mining contractors. You can customize orientations to make them role and site-specific. A lot of GoContractor clients like to cover the safety basics (“the boring stuff”) on the online platform and then have a more specific orientation once a worker arrives at the site. This means that supervisors. don’t have to take time away from their job to train workers in safety basics so you save and time and money.