Although the mining industry has experienced lean times in recent years, there will always be demand for this type of work, and the long-term outlook remains positive. However, productivity increases should not be at the expense of safety. Safety awareness must run in tandem with new techniques and equipment.
Large mining disasters always attract attention. They serve to focus the minds of consumers on the dangers that miners face every day. For example, over a 12-month period in Australia, there were 16 mining fatalities. Most were the result of things such as maintenance work on major equipment, vehicle collisions, operating machinery, falls from heights, drowning, rock falls, trapping and collapsed structures. While some of these fatalities were freak accidents that could not be avoided, almost half occurred while dealing with machinery in one way or another. This should be the primary focus for improved safety.
Safety is a responsibility shared between the employer and the worker, but it is the employer who bears the greater part. Regardless of the pressure for productivity, safety must always come first in every operation. This will require an investment of both time and money.
On every mining team, there typically will be some grizzled old-timers who have developed an instinctive sense for risk over the years. Of course, there will also be less experienced workers. Therefore, every operation must be rigorously assessed for the safety risks it entails. These risks must then be minimized before anything is put into practice. The procedures should also be documented for everyone's benefit.
While the old-timers may think they know how to protect themselves and their buddies from accidents, they may be relying on old-fashioned techniques and anecdotal evidence. For this reason, 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 must also be kept up to date.
As so many accidents are equipment-related, it is critical that machinery is properly maintained and up to modern standards. Replacing major plant equipment is a huge capital outlay. An alternative is a rebuild from a mining equipment service that meets the latest requirements. Either way, the standard of the equipment and its appropriateness for modern mining methods can save lives.
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 labor brought efficiently to the surface through their own sweat and skills. It is up to their employers to work with them and ensure that every team goes home safely at the end of their shift.
Archie Coleman is a safety officer for the mining industry. For mining equipment service or an informative guide on replacing machinery, contact MMS at Minesitems.com.au.