Underground mining is one of the most rigorously regulated sectors in Canada, and rightfully so. Even though the number of work-related accidents and fatalities has decreased over the years, serious injuries continue to be reported each year. An even stronger emphasis on appropriate safety training for all miners is therefore necessary.
The risks most commonly associated with underground mining include:
Exposure to Asbestos and Hydrogen Sulfide.Found especially in talc and vermiculite, asbestos is an insidious substance whose effects on human health become apparent after years of exposure. Hydrogen sulfide, on the other hand, is a potentially deadly gas with an immediate impact. When exposed to high levels of H2S, workers can experience breathing difficulty, loss of consciousness, coma, and even death. H2S is a natural by-product of the decay of organic materials, which means that it can occur in many underground mine sites and must be handled with great care.
Exposure to Dangerous Gases and Vapors.In addition to H2S, hazardous gases that may occur in underground mines – and especially in coal mines – include methane, carbon monoxide, diesel exhaust, and by-products of blasting. Due to the fact that underground mines are enclosed spaces with poor natural ventilation, these gases are particularly dangerous for workers and may lead to irritation of the respiratory tract, eyes, and skin, as well as asphyxiation and even lung cancer.
Working in Confined Spaces.Most underground mines can be referred to as confined spaces. Aside from the risk of collapse, which may be increased by an area’s seismicity, the use of explosives, and poor support of the roof, such spaces may harbor improper atmospheres, either due to contamination or a lack of oxygen. Unattended equipment may also become dangerous under these circumstances.
Explosions and FiresRegardless of whether a mine is abandoned or active, explosions and fires remain some of the most pressing concerns for workers and locals alike. Fires may result from the spontaneous heating of coal, friction from defective machines and equipment, internal combustion engines, electrical sparking, short circuits, poorly maintained explosives and detonators, as well as a host of other factors. Especially in the case of coal mines, some fires can lead to the destruction of entire towns.
Competent supervision, rigorous safety training, and the proper use of personal protective equipment are all necessary steps that businesses must take in order to ensure the safety of an underground mine, its workers, and the surrounding community. Without the appropriate training, for example, miners may not be aware of all the dangers associated with their line of work and the number of incidents caused by human error can increase.
While some incidents are predictable and preventable, others might take workers and their supervisors by surprise. In both of these circumstances, however, the correct use of personal protective equipment can save lives and greatly reduce the number of injuries. Particularly in the case of workers who are routinely exposed to hazardous substances such as asbestos, respiratory protection is paramount.
Where all preventive measures fail, the ability of workers to respond efficiently and immediately during an emergency is another essential factor in terms of minimizing human and property loss. When fires break out, for instance, miners must be able to assess the situation and take immediate action to either contain the fire, evacuate the mine, or both.
Safety Courses Recommended for Underground Mining
- Asbestos Awareness
If miners are not trained in asbestos awareness, they may become exposed to this dangerous substance without their knowledge. Workers and their supervisors must, therefore, be trained to ascertain the risk of encountering asbestos in an underground mine, as well as to use the correct protective gear.
- H2S Awareness
Exposure to high levels of hydrogen sulfide requires an immediate response if casualties are to be avoided. Miners and their supervisors must be able to identify situations where H2S may become a concern, as well as to use respiratory protection when this becomes necessary.
- Fire Safety
Explosions and fires can be devastating for both miners and nearby locals. To prevent an outbreak, workers must be aware of all the factors that can increase the risk of fire in an underground mine. Furthermore, they must be able to implement emergency measures to contain a fire, as well as to quickly evacuate the mine when other options are exhausted.
What You Can Do to Stay Safe
Mining companies throughout Canada are under a legal obligation to provide rigorous training for all employees. As a worker who is routinely required to carry out tasks in an underground mine, the first step you must take to maintain your safety and that of your colleagues is to undergo the necessary safety courses.
To consult a more comprehensive list of safety courses designed to prepare you for the hazards associated with your line of work, please navigate to our Mining industry page and select your specific job.