Even with today’s safety standards, mining can be a dangerous industry. While injury rates have fallen over time, there are still more than 3,000 mining-related injuries a year. Mining comes with some inherent risks, but companies can take steps to improve their safety protocols.
Modern mining involves a lot of heavy machinery, which makes the industry more efficient and often safer. Still, if workers aren’t careful, these machines can pose a severe threat. Here are 10 common machine-related mining hazards and how to avoid them:
Confined spaces and limited visibility make for a dangerous combination when dealing with heavy machinery. If operators aren’t careful, they could crush other workers or cause debris to fall and injure someone. Proper PPE like helmets are an obvious answer to this problem, but you can go further.
Any employee who handles heavy machinery should receive thorough and repeated training before working in the field. Workers should also maintain communication so no one gets in the way of a potentially dangerous machine. Operators should check to see if anyone is around the machinery before using heavy equipment.
2. Flying Debris
Heavy machinery can kick up dust and debris, which can injure nearby workers. Protective eyewear is standard, but not all safety glasses offer the same amount of protection. If workers wear sealed eyewear like goggles, this PPE can be much more effective at preventing injuries.
Like with avoiding crushing incidents, communication is vital for preventing accidents related to flying debris. Anytime a worker uses equipment that could kick up debris, they should check the area first. Operators should also call for other employees to keep clear of zones where this is a potential issue.
3. Operator Fatigue
Fatigue is one of the most pressing safety concerns when dealing with heavy equipment. Tired drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a crash, and that translates to machinery, too. If a driver is fatigued, they may not have the attention span necessary to operate equipment safely.
A tired equipment operator is a danger to themselves and others. In light of these risks, managers should ensure workers have enough breaks throughout the day. Similarly, working shorter hours may help employees avoid fatigue-related accidents.
4. Mechanical Failures
Not all machine-related risks result from human error. If a piece of equipment malfunctions or breaks, it could endanger operators and nearby employees. Miners need to ensure everything is in working order before they use it.
Companies should only use new or manufacturer-certified used equipment to reduce the risk of a malfunction. Operators should also be careful to only use machinery according to manufacturer guidelines. Regular maintenance and inspection are also crucial to avoid dangerous breakdowns.
Machine entanglement is a potential risk in any workplace that uses heavy equipment. A machine part spinning at 500 rpm can pull a person 5 feet in less than a second. Since mines, particularly underground ones, often have limited space, these hazards are even more prevalent.
Once again, communication is key to avoiding these injuries. Operators should call out to make sure an area is clear before using any moving machinery. Proper lighting is also essential, helping workers see potential dangers in a dark mine.
6. Chemical Exposure
Miners often come into contact with hazardous chemicals, some of which can come from machines. If a piece of equipment leaks fuel, oil or hydraulic fluid, it could lead to numerous risks. Some of these chemicals could harm workers’ skin, some could be poisonous if ingested and others may be flammable.
Operators must check their equipment’s condition each time before they use it. Workers should also wear protective gear like gloves and long sleeves to prevent contact with any chemicals. In the event of a spill or leakage, mining crews should have the training and tools necessary to clean it up safely.
7. Whole Body Vibration
Not all hazards are immediately visible, and the same goes for the injuries they cause. Whole body vibration (WBV) occurs when workers experience excessive vibration over long periods. This hazard can cause musculoskeletal problems, digestive issues and other health problems in workers.
Smoothing the paths vehicles have to travel over will help reduce vibrations. Mining companies should also ensure that all equipment is in optimal condition, which leads to smoother operation. Ensuring that no one spends too much time on vibration-heavy equipment is another helpful step.
8. Excessive Noise
Noise may not seem like a pressing concern, but 24% of hearing loss comes from workplace exposure. Heavy machinery is anything but quiet, and the confined spaces of a mine could cause these noises to echo. If workers experience hearing loss, it could affect their situational awareness.
The first step mining companies should take is issuing hearing protection as standard PPE. Workers should also ensure that all equipment is well-lubricated and in prime condition. Worn-out machinery could create an excessive amount of noise.
As machinery moves throughout a mine, it encounters many elements that could cause damage to it. Any cuts or breaks along an electrical system could pose an electrical hazard to nearby workers. Since mines often have limited visibility, workers may not see exposed wires until it’s too late.
Like with many other hazards, workers can avoid electrocution by regularly inspecting their equipment. Operators should check for exposed wires or other electrical threats before using any machinery. Electricity-resistant PPE, like rubber gloves, may also be necessary.
10. Slips and Falls
Since mining doesn’t often involve working at heights, you may not think falls are an issue. Still, slips and falls account for 26% of nonfatal mining injuries, causing 1,023 injuries in 2019. When you throw heavy equipment into the mix, these accidents can quickly become more dangerous.
Workers should ensure that walking and driving paths are free of obstacles at all times. Any spilled fluid or loose ground could cause a person or machine to lose traction and fall. Equipment like excavators should work as far away from ledges or water as possible.
Stay Safe in the Mine
The first step in accident avoidance is education. When machine operators understand all of these risks, they’ll be able to work more safely.
Mines have a reputation for being dangerous, but they don’t have to be. When you know what hazards to watch for, you can take steps to avoid them. Following these steps to reduce these 10 risks can lead to a considerable improvement in safety.
Article by —
Megan Ray Nichols
Freelance Science Writer
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