Supplying valuable mineral resources used in vital products around the world, mining is one of the globe’s biggest industries. But the hands-on nature of the profession comes with inevitable safety hazards and risks. With projects involving deep drilling, blasting and other potentially dangerous tasks, mining safety must always be at the forefront of every project.
What is mining safety?Mining safety refers to any measures taken to promote a mining team’s wellbeing and ensure they can work as safely, responsibly and efficiently as possible. Health, safety and environmental (HSE) factors are potentially the most important measures to focus on at a mine site.
The good news is that in recent decades, the number of fatalities per year has heavily decreased. This is in part due to stricter safety regulations and new technologies promoting safer processes and environments.
Yet, there are still many indirect factors that can have a direct impact on the safety of mine sites - meaning that vigilance and awareness are just as important as ever.
Factors affecting mining safety in 2021
Mining labour shortages
The cyclical nature of mining and high retirement rates from experienced workers means there are times in which interest doesn’t meet the demand for labour. Shortages of trained personnel can have a huge effect on the safety of a project team. “If you have a shortage of qualified and experienced personnel to operate heavy machinery, when incidents occur, often it’s due to the competence and (lack of) training/experience of the personnel,” explains Jason Dunn, Brunel's mining safety expert.
During these labour shortages that inevitably arise due to the ebb and flow of industry demand, it’s important to partner with an experienced workforce provider with a talent pool large enough to withstand global labour shortages.
If a mining team is mentally unhealthy, this is a safety hazard. “We’re all in isolation because of COVID-19, including the mine workers,” says Jason. “To reduce risk and exposure, mining projects have increased their rosters - meaning longer swings and more time spent away from home and family. This can stretch workers’ mental health, especially in a time like this.” To be at their best, miners need to be in a fit mental and emotional state as well as physical. Mining companies should be willing to pay for resources such as counseling if it means keeping their teams healthy and able to work at top productivity.
Proper implementation of mine safety appliances and equipment
It’s one thing to have new, modern safety management systems and advanced procedures to curb mining hazards - it’s another to make sure they’re actually implemented properly throughout all phases of a project. Procedures must be consistently followed each day; from leaders and engineers to crews, each team member must fully embed new safety habits into their daily routines and hold each other accountable. Everyone must participate!
Complacency and culture
If you’ve done something 100 times, it starts to become automatic - and you tend to start paying less attention as you do it. In mining, the reality is that it only takes one mindless mistake to cause widespread safety hazards for an entire team. Complacency is simply not an option. Vigilance must be a vital part of your team’s culture. From completing thorough risk assessments and reporting all near misses to taking note of all potential hazards, safety must always be on the mind, even during busy shifts or when your team is fighting fatigue. Are there disciplinary actions in place for unsafe behaviour? Your project must promote a culture that makes safety a top priority in every situation.
How are mines becoming safer?
The shift from traditional to automated mining
Jason describes this shift as a “quick win” for mining safety: “With automated trucks, people can run trucks from inside buildings many hours away. This increases safety because it removes people from the line of fire operating machinery,” he said. These wireless, remote setups also remove hazards caused by human error.
From 3D printing and drones to autonomous vehicles and wearable technology, new data points can be captured in real time through a connected network. The insights from this data can help improve daily processes and planning to create even safer and more efficient environments. The potential downside of this shift is that it could mean less jobs available in the future because less people are needed, but any win for safety in the mining industry is a win for all.
Enhanced mining training
Many mining companies are increasing not only the quality of their teams’ safety training, but also the frequency. Just as new workers need intensive safety training when they begin, mining veterans also need consistent safety refreshers. This is key to avoiding complacency and ensuring that everyone is always thinking about potential safety hazards in every situation.
Looking to increase the safety of your next mining project?
Brunel is here to help. We have a long history of working with our clients to identify, manage and minimise risks in mining - striving for continuous improvement of safety and health outcomes. From custom mining safety trainings to quality recruitment and HSE services, Brunel helps keep your mining project safe and promotes a culture of safety, all while ensuring your projects are delivered on time, within budget and compliant.