With mining being a significant contributor to the Australian economy and a primary resource which is highly in demand for exportation purposes, it is no surprise that Australian mining has come under scrutiny for its safety.
While the last major accident happened in Beaconsfield on 25 April 2006, where one miner was killed and two others were trapped, a number of mines have had to tighten their safety measures in order to ensure that any accidents are prevented at all times.
Here, we’re taking a closer look at some of the safety considerations which mining sites need to take into consideration, and how technology is set to improve overall site safety.
Mining equipment and innovative technologies
While the Australian Energy Market Operator has said that coal is still likely to be necessary over the next 20 years, a number of mining operations are turning their operations into a more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly option.
For example, some mining equipment is integrating some of the latest, most innovative technologies in order to improve overall efficiencies while reducing running costs and also integrating environmental power such as solar power into the mix.
Not only is this improving the overall eco-friendliness of the mine, but it is also offering new ways to improve overall mine safety. A number of mines are being pressured by activist groups to improve their overall eco-friendliness, with the Adani coal mine proposal being at the centre of Australia’s mining controversy due to its potential impact on the Great Barrier Reef. In order to continue operations, many mines are going to need to adapt their processes in order to ensure they become far more environmentally-conscious, while keeping miner safety at the forefront.
There are a number of different types of technology which mines are integrating in order to improve safety. Firstly, the mining equipment itself features innovative additions which can help the miners to understand when their equipment requires a service, and when it is beginning to overheat. This can help to ensure that there are no equipment failures and even explosions which could occur as a result of overheating. Onboard technology is also helping to heighten all kinds of situational awareness, further helping the operators to maintain their full attention. Further to this, technology is now being integrated into mines in order to help improve overall risk assessment opportunities. With the implementation of drones and intelligence systems, further insights can be gathered about the overall safety of the mine, helping to improve collision avoidance, mine planning and have a clear understanding of where areas of the mine are weaker than others, helping to avoid collapse.
Nanoparticles are common in a number of mining environments and this has led to a number of individuals who have suffered from what is known as ‘black lungs’. This is particularly common in coal mining sites, but there are a number of other respiratory risks and other health problems which can occur in other types of mines.
For example, the uranium mines operating in Ranger, Olympic Dam and Beverley, can lead to miners experiencing strong levels of exposure to radon which can be a key contributor to lung cancer. As a result, miners should be given some form of respiratory protection, whether this is in the form of a simple face mask to stop particles from hitting the lungs or something far more complex to ensure complete protection.
This is a key area which many mines can forget to implement. Increasing the amount of visual communication in the form of signs and safety labels can help to improve overall levels of safety.
For example, if a particular area is low in height, signposting this can help to ensure that minimal collisions occur, particularly when equipment is involved. If a particular area of the mine is weaker than others, then this should also be highlighted, to ensure that there is minimal risk of a collapse occurring.
A major issue within a mining environment is the increased risk of fires. These can come from a huge variety of sources, with natural gas and fuel from mining equipment being two of the main culprits. Minimising the risk by having fire suppression equipment to hand within all areas of the mine can help to ensure miners’ safety at all times, and fire safety should also be included as part of a comprehensive health and safety training program.
Explosive safety is also an important consideration. While the last explosion in an Australian mine occurred in 1994, taking the lives of 11 men in Moura, just eight months after another explosion killed 2 men, this is one of the main concerns for many mining operations. From natural gas seeping into the mine and being ignited to coal dust explosions, ensuring that there are relevant safety procedures in place will help to guarantee that the mine is as safe as possible at all times.
Mining is an extremely hazardous environment for a number of reasons, however with the integration of new technologies, mining operations are becoming safer and more environmentally conscious than ever before.