Occupational Health Hazards Associated with Mining – How to Avoid Them?
Occupational health hazards associated with mining—How to avoid them?
It is well documented that working in the mining industry is a high risk endeavour. Accidents and fatalities are, sadly, not uncommon. Over a span of five years beginning in 2007 to 2008 and ending in 2011 to 2012, there were 36 mining industry fatalities. At a fatality rate of 3.84 deaths for every 100,000 workers, this makes the mining industry’s fatality rate a worrying 70% above the national average for any other occupation. Clearly, safety is a major concern in the mining industry and the need for preventive measures should not be taken lightly. Here are some ways to avoid the health hazards associated with mining.
Heat and thermal stress
Mining and quarrying carry high risks of dehydration and heat or thermal stress, and many mining activities put workers at a high risk of exposure to excessive heat and humidity. In hot weather the risk of heat stress can be particularly high. It is important to be able to measure in an accurate and reliable manner the risk of heat stress workers face at all times, and this risk must then be taken into account when planning, delegating and taking on jobs. Ensuring workers consume adequate amounts of fluid through program drinking and the provision of both water and electrolyte drinks is necessary to keep workers hydrated and reduce the risk of dehydration, heat stress and fatigue.
Miners are often excessively exposed for prolonged periods of time to loud noise that can cause debilitating hearing problems and lead to industrial deafness. The onus is on employers to make sure all preventive measures are taken, for instance by ensuring that all employees are given the proper protective hearing equipment such as earplugs as well as adequate training to ensure they know how best to protect themselves.
The workplace must be designed with injury prevention in mind. Safe design prioritises the elimination of hazards to health and safety even at the initial design stage. During the design stage, the control of risks must also be considered, such as through the incorporation of safety hand rails throughout all raised walkways. Once a building has been built, it is much harder to reduce health and safety risks if its overall structure is unsafe.
Whole body vibration
Whole body vibration (WBV) occurs when vibration, jolting and jarring energy is transmitted to a worker’s body through a supporting surface. Equipment operators are particularly at risk and can be victims of WBV while seated when operating mining equipment and carrying out extractive activities, and also while standing, such as in the situation of jumbo operators in underground metalliferous mining. Prevention can include replacing dangerous vehicles with those that don’t pose as many risks and adopting a prevention policy covering all aspects of technology, organisation, working conditions and employee conditions.
Airborne Particulate Hazards
Free crystalline silica is the most abundant substance in the earth’s crust and as a result the most common airborne substance to pose respiratory risks. Prevention can include supplying workers with protective equipment such as masks.
While the mining industry can be exciting and rewarding, its occupational hazards are many and can be fatal. All risks need to be identified by employers, who should then ensure that safety programmes including components such as safety equipment and organisation of work can be implemented.