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- Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ruth’s Top 10 Safety Hazards in Mining

This Article was shared by our Guest Blogger, Ruth Jenkins, an accomplished mining professional with diverse experience: drill and blast, mine management, safety systems, risk management. A highly skilled and competent professional with more than 21 years experience within the mining industry in both underground and open-cut mining, dispersed over 2 continents.
She has exceptional interpersonal and communication skills to swiftly build rapport, engender trust and uncover core issues. Remains calm under pressure, with proven multi-tasking ability. 
She holds the following: Diploma in Management, Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety, Cert IV in Open cut Mining (Open Cut Examiner), Cert IV Training and Assessing, External Auditor (AS4801/AS19001/ISO14001) Also an NLP Practitioner and Safety Coach.


I have been working in the mining industry since 1989. My journey has been an interesting one and it’s hard to believe that I am now in my third decade in this mining business! Does this make me a “Wise Woman”? Do I know it all? Am I a Safety Guru? (I would like to think so!) A safety warrior? I have the laughter lines that show I have had a fantastic journey across three continents.

I certainly do not feel wise but I feel that I have travelled the distance and come out the other side in one piece! I have lost a few colleagues in that time from accidents in the pit and have come to realize that some of the hazards we talk about at work are very controlled yet there are other things happening that do not even get a mention.

1) Behavior: 
This is at the top of my list of hazards. How do we control people’s behaviors? We talk about fatigue and how we can manage it. We focus on Drug and Alcohol policies and procedures. Our hours of work are tracked.

So what am I concerned about? It’s the Truck Driver that gets a call after dinner when he is back in his Donga saying “Its over! Don’t come home I have found someone else” The next morning the Truck Driver gets up, collects his breakfast and goes to work. He hops on his truck and heads out in the Pit driving a 240T Dump Truck. Is his mind on the job? Or is he a loose cannon? What do you think?

Next we have the “gung ho” attitude of people. We even have large companies saying, “Just get it done” no matter how you do it.  We have people who take shortcuts – why? It is simple – its what humans do.

Do I have any answers on the controls? Well I suggest our Supervisors out there are given training and support in this area. It is a massive issue in the mining industry and it’s not just in Australia. The behaviors I came across when working on the Mines in South Africa were similar.

2) Communication: 
How do we communicate our changes? Or communicate how we want the job done? Do both the Sender and Receiver understand the real meaning of the message?

Things change at the drop of a hat within the mining game both on surface and underground. Conditions change, equipment movement change, shift changes. The list is endless.

I have yet to come across a company that has a robust change management system that works for the whole organization. Usually it is just pockets of knowledge. Is that because knowledge is power?

3) Vehicle Interactions: 
All of us at some point are either operating machinery or travelling in company vehicles during the course of our shift. There are a few different hazards combined into this one. Single vehicle accidents, LV vs. LV and SME vs. SME. The hazards around vehicles are endless.

How do you know that your journey will be uneventful? Are the road conditions good? Is everyone fully trained on the equipment? Are other people out there alert and concentrating on the task of driving? Remember a person can only focus on 7 +- 9 chunks of information at any one time. Are they focusing on the chunk of avoiding you or are they focusing on other stuff?

4) Explosives: 
So this item always is in the top ten hazards. It is very controlled regarding transport, storage and usage. The Shot firer is trained, competent and authorised. The equipment involved in blasting has mandatory checks.

Just imagine how things could be without these controls I have mentioned above. Chaos and destruction. I do not have any fears around explosives as I have handled them for many years as a Shot Firer for both surface and underground mining operations. No fear but a very healthy respect for them!

5) Electricity: 
This is a no-brainer and deserves to be on this list. It is imperative that everyone understands the ramifications of electric shock. If it doesn’t kill you instantly – it can do so up to 12 hours later – hence the need to have an ECG carried out to check your heart rhythm.

Isolation procedures must be followed to the letter. It amazes me that some organisations have a pass rate of 80% when assessing workers on their knowledge of this. There is no room for error and there is no second chance. It is a life saving choice to follow this procedure to the letter.

6) Working at Height: 
This is not a hazard – it is a high-risk activity so why have I added this to my top 10 hazards? Good question.  Unfortunately most of us within the Mining industry can only recognize the hazards when it is combined with an activity.  The real hazard is the potential to fall from one level to the next.

I have been deemed competent in “Work Safely at Height – MNMG237A”. Do I feel confident? The answer is a resounding “NO”! I have a fear of heights and only did the training so that I could be more supportive and knowledgeable when carrying out safety interactions.

7) Confined Space: 
Would you go in a small hole just for a look? Just for a second or two to check out what is in there? This has happened and people have not lived to tell us what was inside.

The training around Confined Space work in Australia is thorough and is nationally accredited training. What about the person who we use outside as our Spotter in case anything goes wrong? What training has he/she had? Nine times out of ten, it is the least experienced person looking out for us working within the confined space.

8) Fire: 
There are many different types of fires that can occur on a mine site. Electrical, chemical, tyre fires, flammable gases. It is important to identify the fire risks in each area of the mine.

I have worked on underground mines in South Africa where the risk of a fire would be catastrophic. A methane explosion would cause the coal dust to ignite and cause a massive fire. Where would I have escaped to? The wire cables along the walls leading to the rescue chambers had been stolen by someone to use as a washing line replacement!

9) Lifting objects: 
I am struggling with this one as I want to put Dropped Objects but the weight of the objects that we lift is one of the hazards we deal with on a daily basis.  Many companies have controls, policies, procedures, equipment, training programs etc. There is evidence that this helps reduce the injuries caused by over exertion but does not stop them. Out there is an ageing workforce and most of us (myself included) think we are still 21 and bullet proof and can lift what we used to lift years ago!

10) Ground Failure (Geotechnical): 
Whether you are working on a surface mine or an underground mine the hazard of slope, wall, roof failures plays on everyone’s mind. It is pushed to the back because we “have to get the job done”.

We have a lot of technology that can measure movement and assist in the prediction of failures. I am sure that it is not an exact science just yet. Slope design, choice of material, roof support, barricades, windrows all give us a feeling of security and yet we keep a watchful eye on it all the time.

The roof collapsed at the intersection I had walked through only 20 minutes before on an Underground Coal Mine on the Number 2 Seam level (400m below surface). I made a choice that day that I was not going back down in the cage ever again!  I am definitely a “Sunshine Miner”!

We train our people, we write safe working procedures, we put rules in place and we still have an ongoing battle with the management of our hazards. Does the piece of paper keep us safe? Are you comfortable that you have all your hazards “Managed”? What are you going to do about it?

These are my top ten hazards in Mining – what are yours?

Remember S.I.N.A. = Safety is no Accident  

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