| Written by Mark Buzinkay
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While all industries should observe workplace safety, it becomes even more essential if you're involved in the mining industry. The record of mining disasters since mining activities began is proof of the higher risks involved in mining.
Despite safety being a top priority in the mining industry, operations and profits are legitimate targets. Therefore, boosting safety and productivity needs to be a top priority. Consequently, governmental bodies implement mining safety standards and regulations to try and reduce the hazards and risks while stepping up productivity in mining.
Learn more how to improve underground mining safety!
There are dozens of general rules & ideas for safe mining. We covered many safety tips in numerous posts in the past (see below for related articles). Let's mention two of them again because they can be applied to all industries and a very effective in reducing accidents.
Wear protective safety gear
Like other physically demanding jobs, miners must always wear protective gear. Having the right equipment is mandatory to protect your body from the harsh temperatures and chemicals often found in the mines. Personal protective equipment (PPE), including steel-toed footwear and a robust hard hat, should be strong enough to lower the impact of any loose rocks or debris. They not only help to prevent serious injury but also protect your productivity. Unfortunately, it is easy to forget to replace safety gear regularly to ensure it's always in excellent condition. Learn more about mining safety equipment here!
Always follow safety standards
Strictly enforcing safety rules ensures miners will remain vigilant while in the mine. Workers can easily contribute to identifying aspects that are considered hazardous. When everyone adopts safe mining practices, the safety of personnel is almost guaranteed, and so is their productivity.
Procedures must be invariably followed each day - from supervisors and engineers to teams; each team member must fully embed new safety practices into their daily routines and hold each other accountable. Everyone must participate. Otherwise, new safety management systems to mitigate hazards won't significantly impact.
In mining, the reality is that it only takes one mindless moment to cause safety hazards for an entire team. Fatiguing routine is a veritable danger, and vigilance must be a vital part of your team's culture. From completing comprehensive risk assessments and documenting all near misses to taking note of all potential hazards, safety must always be on the mind, even during stressful shifts or when your team is fighting fatigue. Safety culture is a top priority in every organisation.
Another additional set of measures to create safety for mining with a a cost-efficient impact are listed below:
Maintaining mining equipment
Mining equipment needs to be well-maintained at all times. This is essential, as grime and dirt will slowly compromise the functioning of moving parts over time and lead to halted operations and missing mining targets.
Proactive measures in place will help to keep mining equipment operational. For instance, mining conveyors, rock dusters, excavators, ventilation gadgets and drill rigs will work when maintenance and other scheduled upkeep are correctly done. The miners will be in control at all times when in the mines, thereby preventing any avoidable incidents and prolonging the life of mining machinery and tools.
Always plan out activities
It is simple: never start mining before having a clear plan. As everyone knows their mining duties, all possible risks should become clear. Some of the tasks involved during the planning stage include investigating the rock stresses, characteristics and potential dangers of your proposed site. This will assist in coming up with a straightforward approach to ensure the mining operation runs smoothly. It also helps you formulate steps to lower possible dangers by coming up with clear guidelines that everyone in the mine can follow. Again, this will help ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Although your goal is to make as much profit as possible, this shouldn't be at your health and safety expense.
Get professional training and counseling
The better your skills, the better for the safety of the crew. Regular training needs to be done for anyone working in mining, regardless of your experience. Refresher courses focus on learning new techniques to boost workplace productivity without compromising safety. The theory and practical aspects are essential for staying safe and are taught during these safety training courses. Wearables can improve your safety training considerably.
Shortages of trained personnel can have a considerable effect on the safety of a project team, causing incidents due to the competence and lack of training/experience of the workforce.
To be at their best, miners need to be in a fit mental and emotional state and a physical one. Therefore, mining companies should be willing to pay for resources such as counseling if it means keeping their teams healthy and working at top productivity.
Digitalisation offers some quick gains in terms of productivity. The mining industry has made several moves towards digitisation and will bring their safety to the next level.
Data analytics, intelligence and critical controls
In general, data can lead to insight when understood. Artificial intelligence turns large amounts of data into knowledge and potentially probability indicators for catastrophic events. Geological modelling, on-the-day scheduling, and predictive maintenance are increasingly in data analytics and intelligence.
Similarly, critical controls contribute to preventing fatal and catastrophic events from occurring. Automated data and smart algorithms deliver such checks and increase safety measures. In addition, predictive models, based on the right data, can prevent incidents before they occur to avoid harm and keep operations smooth.
Wearables and data sources
As miners and their wearables produce vast amounts of sensor data, they contribute to a more accurate and consistent picture of what is happening on site. Embedding vast numbers of sensors in equipment and machinery will increase the available data and improve the accuracy of predictions. For example, atmospheric monitoring information is collected through leaky-feeder devices and can be used to provide mine managers with vital safety data. Having proper ventilation to keep air flowing throughout the mines underground is critical.
Wearables are not only used in the medical field but can be used in mining as well. Work clothing can now incorporate sensors that transmit data to managers about hazardous conditions and the physical condition of the workers themselves, improving safety outcomes. Even more, wearables tell about the whereabouts of personnel within the mine. It is not easier to locate miners in case of an emergency but to declare a zone safe for blasting. As a result, mine operations have become much smoother and more productive than ever before.
Further reading: Mine Safety - Why digital management?
A mobile communications system is crucial. Every miner can communicate with colleagues through a handheld radio. Combined with a wearable transponder, this dramatically improves the chances of being located should an accident happen underground. In addition, two-way communication allows you to send information to others, not only to receive it.
Automation and drones
The fewer humans, the fewer chances of injuries and fatalities. Therefore, automation can be a game-changer in workplace safety. Remote and wireless remote controls help prevent humans from being in a dangerous place and conducting their work from a safe distance. To stay out of harm's way is a good strategy.
A variant of remotely controlled machines is drones. Drones not only scan the mines from perspectives that are dangerous and near-inaccessible to humans, but they also instantaneously communicate any information they pick up. This makes for a more rapid and detailed analysis of the mine slopes without deploying highly skilled geologists or geotechnical engineers into an inherently hazardous environment or affecting production by closing haul roads.
Collision avoiding systems
Collisions involving heavy vehicles are one of the major causes of injuries underground. One way to reduce the risks is installing proximity detection devices that sound an alarm when a large piece of equipment is getting close to another one. Even better, proximity detection can lead to a full operational stop of the machine, avoiding collision and harm.
Safety hazards in the mining industry may be more prevalent than in any other work environment. However, proactive measures safeguard miners and productive operations. With this peace of mind, safe mining is possible without hurting your productivity. Digital technologies such as wearables and collision avoiding systems can help you achieve both in a big way. However, one fundamental aspect of safe mining operations is a firm safety culture.