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Hazards of mining

Mining is an ancient occupation, long recognized as being arduous and liable to hold potential for injury and disease. Mining is inherently dangerous both in terms of the risk it holds regarding accidents or ill health. Numerous hazards play a role in mining and need to be controlled in order to ensure at all cost the safety of the miner. Some of the health hazards are common to mining in general, while others are related specifically to the nature of the material being mined.

(http://iloencyclopaedia.org/component/k2/123-74-mining-and-quarrying/health-hazards-of-mining-and-quarrying) There are physical hazards, such as exposure to noise, ionizing radiation, and heat. Chemical hazards, such as crystalline silica and coal dust, to name just a few, have been a subject of considerable investigation over the last century. Biological hazards manifest in the form of diseases. Tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are substantial at some remote mining locations. Regarding ergonomic hazards, cumulative trauma disorders and fatigue are responsible for most of the cases, and require a lot of attention in safety management. Psychosocial hazards, such as drug and alcohol abuse, and stress due to being separated from family and community, have been a difficult issue to deal with in mining, but policies and procedures are now in place in most large mining operations. All hazards can be controlled to some extent. Another control measure that should be implemented in order to maximize safety is the preparation of a Mine Emergency Response Plan (MERP) for effective containment of an emergency situation.

Mine Emergency Response Plan (MERP)

The mine company is aware of most hazards and can plan to manage the effect of the hazard in good time. A sudden emergency, however, happens unexpectedly. Prompt action is required to control mine fires, explosions, entrapments, or inundations. The unexpected nature of an accident does not mean a mine company is unable to prepare for this kind of hazard. A Mine Emergency Response Plan that outlines procedures when faced with an emergency situation, and is prepared in advance, is essential for effective containment of a crisis. Such a plan can help save lives and protect financial investments.

Conceptual Framework

Dr.D.P.Tripathy, Professor and Head, Deptartment of Mining Engineering, NIT, Rourkela, designed a conceptual framework for emergency management. (http://dspace.nitrkl.ac.in/dspace/bitstream/2080/1531/1/Industrial%20emergency%20preparedness25811.pdf) He defines the stages as mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

Mitigation

Mitigation efforts are attempts to prevent hazards from developing into disasters altogether or to reduce the effects of disasters. The mitigation phase differs from the other phases in that it focuses on long-term measures for reducing or eliminating risk. The higher the risk, the more urgent that the vulnerabilities to the hazard are targeted by mitigation and preparedness.

Peparedness

Preparedness is a continuous cycle of planning, managing, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, creating, monitoring, evaluating and improving activities for the purpose of safety management. In the preparedness phase, emergency managers develop plans of action in order to manage and counter their risks and take action to build the necessary capabilities needed to implement such plans.

Response

The response phase includes the mobilization of the necessary emergency services and first responders in the disaster area. This is likely to include a first wave of core emergency services, such as firefighters, police and ambulance crews. A well rehearsed emergency plan developed as part of the preparedness phase enables efficient coordination of rescue.

Recovery

The aim of the recovery phase is to restore the affected area to its previous state. Recovery efforts are primarily concerned with actions that involve rebuilding destroyed property, re-employment, and the repair of other essential infrastructure. An important aspect of effective recovery efforts is taking advantage of a ‘window of opportunity’ for the implementation of mitigative measures that might otherwise be unpopular. Citizens of the affected area are more likely to accept more mitigative changes when a recent disaster is in fresh memory.

Scope of the Mine Emergency Response Plan

An established MERP is critical to a company’s ability to contain an emergency before it gets out of control. An MERP ensures that supervisory and other personnel know exactly what to do to prevent or control an emergency. The MERP answers the following questions:

  • What actions should be taken to prevent an emergency?
  • What precautions would minimize the effects of an emergency, should one occur?
  • What immediate actions should mine personnel take to contain an emergency?
  • Do mine employees have the skills necessary to carry out the procedures outlined within the MERP?
  • Who will assume temporary command of the emergency effort?
  • Who is in charge of which parts of the emergency operation?
  • What kinds of special services and mutual aid support are available to sustain rescue actions?
  • How will key personnel obtain information and assess reports to make critical decisions?
  • What effective media relation procedures are in place?

Testing the MERP

The MERP should be tested at various levels. All stake holder and service providers should constantly be trained and re-trained. An awareness amongst the community should be cultivated. The MERP should ensure there is good coordination between various sopport functionaries. Finally, conducting a mock exercise will prove the state of readiness and expose weak links in the MERP.

best practices in emergency response plan design