The mining industry is not without its risks, so workers need to be aware of mining safety tips that might save their life. Although there are industries with higher injury rates, the injuries incurred in mining are far more likely to be severe than those incurred by workers employed in private industry as a whole. Bituminous coal underground mining employs more than half of all miners in the US and experiences a higher share of occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, compared to other industries. According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of fatal injuries in the mining industry in 2015 was 9.8 per 100,000 full-time workers the vast majority of which come from coal mining, and is almost three times the average rate in the private sector.
This figure is actually much lower than it was even just a few years ago. In 2006, the fatality rate in mining was 24.8 per 100,000, making it one of the most dangerous industries in heavy industry. The 26 deaths in 2015 was the lowest figure ever recorded in the US and is proof of the vastly improved safety standards and training in the last decade. However, this fact is little solace to the families of the 26 workers who did lose their lives in 2015. Mining is still a dangerous job and the industry needs to keep striving to improve safety for its workers.
Common Health and Safety Hazards in the Mining Industry and some mining safety tips to help improve safety
The mining environment poses significant health risks to the workers employed in the industry. The seven most common hazards in the mining industry are:
- Chemical hazards
- Dust hazards
- Heat stress
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Whole body vibration
Chemical Hazards –
Mine workers are exposed to a number of chemical hazards in the course of their job. There is often a chemical separation process in mining, where the metals and minerals being mined are separated from an ore/substance. Polymeric chemicals are used in the flocculation process in coal mining to treat waste water by making particles clump together and float to the top, making them easier to be removed. Chemicals are huge potential risks to workers health, with burns, poisoning and respiratory problems all risks related to exposure to chemicals.
When dealing with chemicals, there needs to be a standard operating procedure (SOP) implemented and included in all training. Different chemicals are used depending on the mining project, so there needs to be site-specific training that takes into account the chemicals used. Mining Safety Tips include providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) s to all workers who may come in contact with chemicals, with safe handling procedures established throughout the company.
Dust Hazards –
Dust is one of the most significant hazards in mining. Coal mining can result in large amounts of airborne dust particles. The most severe risk involved with dust in coal mining is coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (also known as black lung disease), which is a disabling and often fatal lung disease. In metal, nonmetal, stone, sand, gravel and some aspects of coal mining, silica dust can be released into the air and inhaled by mine workers. This can lead to silicosis, a lung disease which has led to the death of more than 14,000 workers in the past 50 years.
Dust hazards need to be closely controlled, with a hierarchy of controls implemented to protect worker health. Where possible, the dust-related hazard should be eliminated completely. If this is not possible, the dust should be substituted with a safer alternative, or the hazard isolated so as to separate workers from risk. These are the best mining safety tips to keep workers safe. If the dust hazard is unavoidable, tools and equipment can be modified with safety in mind, PPE needs to be mandatory and health and safety training and procedures need to be implemented to reduce the risk to workers.
Heat Stress –
Mining workers are especially susceptible to heat-related injuries and illness. Mines are enclosed spaces that can become incredibly hot, given the lack of natural air and the physical exertion of the work involved. Risks to workers exposed to high temperatures include dehydration, heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Workers may find it hard to concentrate which can lead to injury, and untreated heat stress can result in death. To keep everyone safe, there may need to be extra rest breaks given to workers operating in high-temperature environments. Keeping workers hydrated needs to be a priority, as well as providing PPE and work clothes appropriate for hot conditions.
Musculoskeletal disorders –
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. Workers are at risk from MSD’s through actions such as lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward positions. MSD’s account for 33% of all worker injuries and illnesses.
MSD’s are a significant risk in mining, given the strenuous physical activity that the work involves. Mining safety tips include training workers in the correct ergonomic procedures so that they work as safely as possible. Workers should be involved in the process to encourage early reporting of MSD symptoms, which helps catch injuries before they become serious, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Mines are noisy places with equipment and drilling reverberating to create a very loud work environment. Overexposure to high volumes of noise, over an extended period of time, can cause workers injuries such as tinnitus, concentration problems and even deafness. Where possible, excessive noise should be eliminated. However, heavy equipment is usually necessary in mines, so noise is unavoidable to some extent. Regular maintenance of equipment can help reduce noise levels and all workers should be given proper PPE and health and safety training to protect themselves from noise.
Whole Body Vibration –
Any worker who uses heavy equipment is at risk from whole body vibration (WBV). Repeated use of machinery, or operating machinery in awkward positions can lead to WBV. Symptoms include musculoskeletal disorders, reproductive damage in females, vision impairment, digestive problems and cardiovascular changes.
WBV is a serious hazard and safety measures should be implemented to keep workers safe. There need to be regular breaks for those using heavy machinery, as well as training so that workers are aware of the risks, and can flag them early, before any injuries are sustained.
Despite significant progress in recent years, the mining industry is still one of the most dangerous workplace environments. When safety protocols are ignored for the sake of getting the job done faster, the effects on human health can be dangerous and often lethal. With so many different hazards, employers must take no chances and implement as many safety regulations as possible to protect their workforce.