A Short Guide to Mining Safety Equipment
Underground mining has a long history and is widely practiced around the world, using a variety of techniques to extract everything from diamonds to precious metals to coal. Despite the major differences in techniques, geography, and materials across mining operations, the mining industry remains inherently dangerous for workers.
In order to overcome safety challenges and keep up the pace of production, mining industry stakeholders need to embrace a variety of safety solutions. In the past, mine safety focused on general safety procedures and personal protective equipment, but industry best practices have evolved to include remote controlled mining equipment
Common Mining Industry Health and Safety Risks
Although mining operations are now much safer for workers than they have been in the past, miners continue to face hazards on a daily basis. The most common health and safety risks include:
Mine Shaft Collapse
Cave-ins and collapses, although rare, are extremely dangerous events that put the lives of miners at serious risk. Events that fall short of a large-scale collapse, such as rock falls, don’t compete for headlines the way collapses often do, but falling objects are a significant threat to miner safety.
Fires & Explosions
Due to the extreme nature of mining environments, as well as the materials and equipment involved, many fire suppression methods are neither practical nor effective. Despite every effort to avoid them, the fires and explosions that still occur from time to time put mine personnel in great peril.
Exposure Risks – Dust & Noise
The combination of cramped spaces, limited ventilation and powerful machinery creates dangerous amounts of dust and noise in underground mining operations, especially coal mining. Without adequate protective gear, miners risk permanent hearing and/or breathing problems as a result of these environmental factors.
Heavy Machinery & Vehicle Accidents
In modern mines, the majority of safety incidents are now linked to vehicles and machinery. Whether as a result of inadequate safety training, poor hazard communication, a lack of machine guarding or procedural safety, many of the most common accidents are avoidable with improved procedures and equipment.
General Mine Safety Equipment & Practices
Although modern mine safety equipment, improved mine engineering and more robust safety procedures have made mining much safer, mine operators should nonetheless remain proactive on the safety front. Even a relatively minor incident can entail major costs for both workers and operators, so here are some of the most important elements to consider for underground mine safety.
Worker Tracking Systems
In order to ensure the safety of all personnel, operators must know their location in the mine for the duration of their shifts. Especially in large-scale operations, worker identification systems must be sufficient to account for the location of all miners, and have the procedures in place to react when flags are raised by the check-in/check-out system.
Emergency & Evacuation Plans
Mine operators should have comprehensive plans in place for emergency response and employee evacuation. And these plans must be tested periodically to make sure that they work as expected, and that employees fully understand what they need to do in particular emergency situations.
Whether the issue is a dangerous fault with electrical wiring, a trapped miner or the detection of a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide, operators need thorough emergency plans to prevent or reduce injuries and provide maximum worker safety.
Air Quality Sensors
Underground miners risk exposure to a wide variety of potentially dangerous fumes, vapors and gases, with carbon monoxide exposure as one of the most common risks, so air quality sensors and alarms should be regularly tested, inspected and maintained.
Lighting & Hazard Signs
For both operational efficiency and worker safety, sufficient lighting is an absolute necessity.
In general, 5 foot-candles of illumination is enough for tunneling, but 10 foot-candles is required for shaft heading during drilling, mucking and scaling. Also, operators must ensure that any and all hazard signage is well located and well lit.
Although it sounds paradoxical to those outside the mining community, underground miners sometimes have to work at major heights, and fall hazards can be present even when workers are not at the top of a long ladder or tall scaffold.
Workers who face potential exposure to working at height should be adequately trained on the latest fall arrest procedures and have access to sufficient safety equipment. Fall protection equipment, commonly used on construction sites or by rescue teams, includes anchors, connectors and body support harnesses.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Physical protection is some of the most important mining safety equipment a worker can have. As the last line in protection between workers and hazards, proper PPE is essential to help miners stay safe while on the job.
Making sure that all workers have access to the required PPE for their particular tasks is an absolute necessity in underground mines. These safety products include:
Protective clothing must be robust enough to protect workers from the mine environment and highly visible in poor lighting conditions to keep workers protected.
Proper hand protection depends on the specific tasks being performed, but all work gloves should provide sufficient puncture resistance and abrasion resistance to keep workers hands free from harm.
Modern protective footwear offers miners many options to choose from, in terms of protective strength, stability and insulation. Mine personnel should replace their protective footwear, at least annually, to maximize their comfort and safety.
Hard Hats & Eye Protection
Hard hats and eye protection are PPE items of absolute necessity that most people take for granted. But moden PPE includes a number of small but important technical advancements that go a long way to helping workers feel safe and comfortable.
For example, many miners now prefer hard hats with integrated face shields over traditional protective eyewear. Also, hard hats are now available with more features than ever before, so workers can adjust their water protection, ventilation or illumination as they see fit.
Often overlooked in industrial settings, hearing protection is vitally important for the long-term health and safety of mine personnel. Mining machinery, tools, vehicles, and especially blasting, in confined spaces can generate sufficient decibel levels to cause permanent hearing loss, so workers need adequate hearing protection at all times.
Dust exposure, flying particles and grinding residues present major risks, so all mine workers should have access to the face masks, respirators or self-contained breathing equipment required to work safely around such hazards.
Mining Drones: A Giant Leap Forward for Worker Safety & Operational Efficiency
Mining operations will always require a certain number of boots on the ground, or under the ground as the case may be, but recent advancements in lidar drone technology offer new ways for mine operators to simultaneously increase worker safety and operational efficiency.
By providing highly accurate site models through lidar data, mining drones facilitate dangerous tasks, such as highwall, crest and stope inspections. With applications for blast engineering, underground lidar survey and photogrammetry, flying drones and other remote, mobile equipment can reduce the scale of effort required to keep workers safe because so many tasks can be carried out by personnel who are far removed from hazardous environments.
SafeSight Exploration is a leader in lidar drone technology, offering products, such as:
DB3™ Underground Drone
SafeSight developed the technology behind the DB3TM Underground Drone in a narrow vein environment, giving it more capabilities than other drones on the market. With the ability to access openings as small as 2m x 2m, the DB3TM helps remove workers from hazardous environments by carrying out a wide variety of inspection and survey tasks.
MRC Rail Runner™
In another innovative safety solution, SafeSight’s autonomous MRC Rail Runner™ can be used for remote 3D mapping and capturing HD images and video of the face or raise.
By keeping workers far removed from hazardous environments while offering superior data capture capabilities, the MRC Rail Runner™ offers safety and operational efficiency for a wide variety of underground mine environments.