Mining presents a number of challenges for companies. From the heat, dust and equipment through to safe storage of food and ensuring cleanliness of common areas.
Hazards are present in our every day. Uneven footpaths, wet surfaces, people not looking where they are going while texting, objects on roadways: the list is endless.
On a mine site, hazard management is an integral part of the safety management plan, as the consequences of poor management are immeasurable. From minor incidents to fatalities have occurred as a result of hazards not being managed. (Although it’s worth noting, mining is not the riskiest industry in Australia.)
Training in hazard management is given to all new employees when they start on a mine site. However, knowing some of the broader hazards onsite as an entry-level person may well assist your applications for a mining job.
Hazardous chemicals are used in the processing plant, in water treatment and in accommodation areas. The use and storage of chemicals requires specific training and PPE for individuals. Some chemicals require companies to hold licences and adhere to strict legislative requirements around the transport, use and storage onsite.
Not only are many operations located in hot environments but some of the work in the processing plant, workshops and underground generates heat as a by-product. Heat stress and heat stroke can be fatal, so employees and companies need to understand how to minimise heat’s impact.
UV exposure for outdoor workers is well-documented and the mining industry is no different. To reduce the risk, companies now regulate that all employees wear long sleeves and long pants, hard hats have brims, and sunscreen be readily available.
Mine sites work long hours, many roles are labour intensive and it is easy for individuals to become fatigued. Adjusting breaks, ensuring adequate rest and time away from work are all ways employers manage fatigue, but it is also up to the individual to ensure they are getting enough rest, eating well and staying healthy. Fatigue management is covered in inductions and site welcome packs.
Medications, illicit drugs and alcohol all impact an individual’s ability to perform their role safely. Ensuring people are fit for work is achieved through random drug and alcohol testing onsite. It is also imperative that the site nurse or paramedic is advised of any prescribed medication being taken
From loose gravel to hoses and muddy walkways, slip and trip hazards are one of the most common hazards identified onsite. The positive is they are easy to manage; the negative is they are equally easy to cause and result in injury. Being aware of your surroundings onsite is no different to when you are walking down the street.
The equipment onsite is significantly larger than you’d find on a suburban road. The driver’s visibility is reduced and blind spots exist. However, unlike the blind spots created by a sedan, the blind spots in large mining vehicles are many metres wide and high. And the damage a haul truck will do to a light vehicle is major.
From the motors in trucks to the blasting and crushing of rocks, mining is noisy. Some noise can be muffled by barriers, but in all cases using hearing protection is a must.
Inadequate ventilation underground and in confined spaces can lead to a build-up of fumes. Some tasks, when completed, generate fumes and require increased airflow to ensure adequate extraction and airflow occurs. Dust masks, respirators and PPE are all available for employees working in these areas.
At times, heavy lifting and repetitive tasks are part of many mining jobs. In these instances, the hazard will be managed by ensuring employees are trained in correct manual handling techniques.
The system in place for the management of hazards in many sites is called the “hierarchy of control”. This system consists of six levels that are considered to be appropriate approaches to managing a hazard.
In all instances of hazard identification and management, the most effective method to manage the hazard is to remove it completely.
Consider a hose across a pathway, for instance. If the pathway is used multiple times a day, can the hose be placed elsewhere or removed?
The second-most effective is to find a substitute. Is an alternative available? Using the hose as an example, is there a different way to get the water across the path?
The next four are the least effective controls, as they leave the hazard in place.
Can the hazard be engineered or isolated? Is another tap needed on the other side of the path? There is still the risk the hose is placed across the path. Could an anti-trip cover be made? This could work, but the hose is still across the path.
Could an administrative control be put in place? Can we put a system in place where the hose needs to be put away? This relies on individuals following a process, and are not effective.
The fifth level is about PPE. Sometimes PPE does not apply to managing a particular hazard, as with our example. Again, it relies on an individual complying with a rule or requirement.
Modifying an individual’s behaviour is the final level. Perhaps we can put up a sign alerting people to the trip hazard ahead? Or could the sign then become another hazard?
Mining does present all sorts of challenges to individuals and organisations. Safety in the industry is everyone’s responsibility, and educating yourself while still looking for a mining job can only assist in the longer term.