Although mining in Australia has been going through lean times, an industrialised world will always have a demand for mining and the long-term outlook remains positive. But productivity rises cannot be at the expense of safety, and safety awareness must run in tandem with new techniques and equipment.
Mining: A Risky Business
Big mining disasters will always attract attention, and they serve to focus the minds of consumers on the dangers that miners face every day, but the tally of unreported accidents goes on year by year.
In Australia, with its high safety standards, from 2016 to September 2017 there were 9 fatalities in the mining industry. The number of less severe but life-changing incidents is obviously higher, and, when considered across the world, the scale of suffering is very large indeed.
The causes of the 9 fatalities included:
- Maintenance work on major machinery
- Operating machinery
- Vehicle collisions
- Falls from height
- Drowning, rockfall, and trapping
- Collapsed structures
How to Keep Mining Accidents at Bay
Some of the Australian fatalities were freak accidents that could not be avoided, but about half occurred while dealing with machinery in one way or another. This is the primary focus of safety concerns.
Safety is a responsibility shared between the employer and the worker, but of course, it is the employer who bears the greater liability. No matter what the pressure for productivity, the safety angle must always come first in every operation, and requires the investment of both money and time.
Plan, Train, Equip
Planning. There is no doubt there will be some grizzled old-timers on every team who have developed an instinctive sense for risk over the years, but there will also be less experienced workers.
Every operation must be rigorously assessed for the safety risks it entails, and then these risks must be minimised before anything is put into practice. The procedures need to be documented for everyone’s benefit.
Training. Your grizzled old-timers may think they know how to protect themselves and their buddies from accidents, but they may be relying on old-fashioned techniques and anecdotal evidence.
It is essential that every member of the workforce is fully trained, and that training is regularly updated with the most modern information. Advice on the proper use of personal safety equipment also needs to be kept up to date.
Machinery. As so many accidents are related to equipment, it is essential that the equipment is properly maintained and up to modern standards.
Replacing major equipment is a huge capital outlay, and an alternative is a re-build to the latest requirements from a mining equipment service. Either way, the standard of the equipment and its appropriateness for modern mining methods can save lives.
A Safe Workforce
Throughout the world, miners are a proud and hardy breed, with incredible ties of loyalty to each other and their mine. They derive tremendous satisfaction from seeing the results of their labour brought efficiently to the surface through their own sweat and skills. It is down their employers to work with them, to ensure that every team goes home safely at the end of their shift.