underground mine safetyThe American National Safety Council’s most recent list of Top 10 occupational safety violations ranks negligence in terms of scaffolding in third place for the year 2015 with a discomforting number of 4,295 offenses. With the spatial properties of deep mine shafts continuously changing, underground mining is a working environment that calls for extreme caution to be exercised by those working at heights.

Activities such as rise development, working in ladderways or servicing plants each pose unique challenges and risks. Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum provides the following guideline to assist mine operators to identify the risks associated with activities of working from work platforms in an underground environment, and to develop and implement a system of safe working practises to minimise risks.

Mobile Work Platforms in Underground Mining

In underground mining, mobile platforms provide access for workers, equipment and material to hard to reach areas, especially at height. These platforms typically comprised purpose-designed mobile work platforms and work platforms attached to multi-purpose machines such as work baskets. Working from height is associated with a high risk of injury, not only due to falling incidents, but also when workers get caught between the rock face and work platform as it is being raised or is levelling, a worker gets entangled in the platform’s moving parts or a worker is crushed by the platform.

The following risks should be considered in terms of mobile platforms:

  • Methods of reaching items being worked where access is blocked by obstructions (e.g water pipes, electrical cables, ventilation bags)
  • Movement and final positioning of work platforms where these are limited by the drive dimensions and services suspended from the backs and shoulders of the drive
  • Restrictions of overhead space and protruding objects that obstructs floor space
  • The impact of the ground surface on stability of platforms
  • Control of work platform (e.g. basket-mounted controls, operator not in basket, self-levelling capability)
  • Suitability of platform for specific purpose
  • Correct implementation of fall protection equipment
  • Approved anchor point within work platform for proper implementation of fall protection system
  • Enforcement of an appropriate preventative maintenance schedule
  • Appropriate lighting
  • Proper worker training and assessment of competency

Fixed Work Platforms in Underground Mining

Fixed work platforms include permanent or semi-permanent structures such as pinned platforms, scaffolding, built-up broken rock, other structures such as covered openings or sump pump accesses, and sometimes landings in ladderways and shafts. These temporary structures support access or serve as working platforms to provide a safe, stable level service from which to perform tasks at heights.

Safety hazards that should be considered include:

  • The type of platform to be used as well as its duty rating
  • The height of the platform to be erected
  • The layout of the underground mine shaft
  • The number of people involved in the task
  • The structural integrity of the surface on which the platform or scaffold will be erected, the stability of rock mass, as well as environmental conditions such as exposure to saline water resulting in corrosion
  • Equipment that will be in use on or near the platform
  • Maintenance of equipment, as well as the skill and competency of workers who are tasked with erecting, using, maintaining, altering and disassembling the platform.

Risk Mitigation Strategies for Work Platforms in Underground Mining underground mine safety scaffolding

Safety measures that mining operators should put in place in terms of mobile and fixed work platforms include:

Suitability of Equipment

  • Select fixed platforms with an appropriate design, as well as kick plates and handrail guards
  • When platforms are to be attached to multi-purpose machines, ensure that the work platform is designed with its specific purpose in mind and that it will allow secure attachment to lifting equipment
  • Only use scissor lifts that have been designed and purpose built for an underground environment
  • Fit mobile platforms with suitable anchorage as specified by industry regulations, to allow workers to attach a lanyard and harness

Checks and Assessments

  • Implement pre-use checks of mobile and fixed work platforms, as well as the work environment
  • Whenever blasting or seismic activity has taken place, lateral movement stability needs to be reassessed and verified
  • Install interlocking systems of safety to prevent accidental detachment of the work platform
  • Employ a competent person (internal or external consultant) to conduct a risk assessment of all work platforms, and to develop and implement a safe working practises, as well as exclusion zones

Competency and Proper Use

  • Enforce the policy that operators remain in control of equipment at all times
  • Restrict the number of workers, as well as the transport of workers in the basket
  • Prohibit workers from standing on basket rails to gain extra height, and from walking or working underneath the basket
  • Train and instruct platform operators in safe operating procedures for the specific brand and type of equipment, as well as safe use of fall arrest equipment and emergency protocol
  • Obtain a high risk work license as is required for erecting scaffolding and operating elevating work platforms with a reach capacity exceeding 11 metres, and ensure that workers involved in erecting scaffolding are competent and hold a high risk work licence.

Safety Systems and Emergency Protocols

  • Protect controls from accidental activation by implementing a suitable lockout and tagout system
  • Provide for emergency situations and incidents of power failure by planning an alternative method for equipment to be safely lowered
  • Make use of check valves to control unchecked movement
  • Provide an effective communication channel between a worker in the basket and the operator, as well as between a worker on a platform and other workers
  • Have an emergency response plan in place.

To read about an emergency response system that enables lost persons detection in underground mining, download our free guide to mine safety here:

Underground Mine Safety