Miners encounter life-threatening events daily, from equipment accidents to falling rocks and explosions; however, these aren’t the most threatening. They are also at risk of diseases from chronic exposure to toxins in their everyday working environment. Exposure to toxins can lead to health risks such as, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, respiratory tract infections, asthma and cardiovascular disease.
Mining accidents have killed tens of thousands of mine workers worldwide, In South Africa alone 81 miners lost their lives in 2018, the sector has therefore set itself a goal, to be zero harm by 2020; meaning no fatalities. This article will explore methods mines are using to achieve this goal.
How Can miners safety be improved?
Automation: The use of automation can erase human error, resulting in a safer working environment. As technology advancements improve, automation is becoming more prominent. Many solutions which utilise automated systems and advanced processes to reduce the exposure of mine workers to hazardous processes, environments and materials.
Self-Contained Rescuers: Self-contained rescuers are a portable device containing a store of oxygen which can be accessed by the miners, should they be stuck underground. The standard SCSR features an oxygen scrubber, which can chemically remove impurities from the atmosphere to provide a miner with breathable oxygen.
Training: Through teaching information, skills and techniques employees can be greatly reduced from harm, the training must be frequent to keep workers up to date on workplace and regulatory changes and to keep them aware, alert, and prepared to work safely. Keeping the employees aware of all hazards in the work environment and how to deal with the hazards if exposed to them will also greatly increase the safety of miners.
Compliance with Health and Safety Regulations: Compliance with every detail and standard that applies to operations and your workplace can significantly reduce the risk of accidents. Develop your own set of safety standards and policies and ensure compliance.
Ventilation: This is a heavily regulated aspect of miner’s safety; suitable airways must be in place to allow clean air to come in and ensure contaminated air is filtered out. They can be customised by size, material, spacing and grommet type.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PPE is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. Using the correct equipment can greatly reduce any risk.
Removal of cyanide in the gold mining process.
Cyanide has been used in gold mining since 1887, and it remains the primary reagent in use for gold processing today, with about 75% of gold extracted from ore using cyanide. Cyanide is so popular as it allows for efficient extraction of gold from low-grade ore. Cyanide is highly toxic, if released into the environment it can result in public health risks and devastating environmental impacts.
Clean Mining, an Australian tech firm has launched an ore processing technology that will replace the use of chemical cyanide in gold mining. The use of a non-toxic reagent, thiosulphate, will reduce both health implications and environmental risks and open other opportunities in countries where gold cyanidation is banned.
Clean Mining MD, Jeff McCulloch revealed that Clean Mining is launching the new technology solution and beginning its global sales and distribution programme.
Future efforts to keep miners safe
Researchers at the University of Arizona have received a $1.78 million grant from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to determine the extent to which using alternative fuel mixtures can reduce exposure to hazardous components of diesel engine exhaust in underground mines to reduce disease in miners. The use of this grant will help improve future technology to keep all miners safe.