Challenges to zero incident target

Aiming for 100% incident free days in mining operations is an extraordinary goal, but safety managers like Koos Jacobs (Shiva Uranium) believes that it is possible.

Every miner matters

According to Jacobs one of the major obstacles to ensuring the safety of miners is a culture that fixates on operational targets and politics while depersonalizing the loss of human life: “This year labour unrest, retrenchments, a drop in global demand in the commodities market and other economic issues have dominated the headlines in mining, while deaths of miners continue to be a statistic.”

The Mine Safety Institute of Australia addresses this issue in their core value statement (accent my own):

“MSIA believes that:

  • Every mine can be operated safely
  • Nothing is more important than the safety and health of every person who may be affected as a result of mining activities
  • Safety is integrated within every activity
  • Safety belongs to every person, every day
  • Each generation need not rediscover the lessons of mine safety learned by the previous generation, lest we forget the lessons that have been bought with such a high price – that of the lives of mine workers.”

Compliance makes every life matter

Deep mining operations pose unique challenges ranging from geological conditions, to extreme temperatures, provision of breathable air and vertical transport of people. According to Jacobs there are three kinds of incidents related to these conditions that have the potential to cause great harm, which are:

  • shaft incidents which are uncommon but potentially fatal,
  • falls of ground and seismic events which occur regularly and have a tremendous impact on underground mining operations,
  • transport and machinery-related incidents.

Other high risk activities associated with underground mining includes working with electricity, the use of explosives or chemicals, slipping and falling into excavations, toxic gas and flooding of shafts with mud or water.

While no miner could claim ignorance of these risks compliance with preventative measures is still shockingly low.  The 2015 list of top 10 occupational safety violations released by the American Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration points to a general disregard of safety regulations in work environments. Jacobs has found this to be the case in mining as well, where the most common concerns experienced by safety officers on a daily basis to be “non-compliance with prescribed personal protective equipment by employees, poor housekeeping, lack of communication and transfer of information between supervisors and subordinates, and non-compliance by employees with procedures and standards prescribed by management.”

Improving Compliance and Prioritizing Life

“Mining is physically challenging and it is incumbent on all of us involved to ensure that an enabling environment is created for each and every employee without the spectre of death hanging over their heads,” declares Jacobs.

The mining industry has seen significant advancements in knowledge, experience and technology over the past few decades. Enough studies have been done to give us a relatively accurate picture of When, How and Why fatal incidents occur while technological advances have made great strides in improving safety training, emergency prevention as well as rescue missions. The tools and systems are available and it is now the responsibility of all involved in mining operations to eliminate unsafe conditions by implementing the necessary technology and prevent unsafe acts through rigorous compliance with safety regulations. 

To learn more about mine safety systems that makes every life matters, download your FREE copy of our ‘Mine Safety 101’ eBook now!

Underground Mine Safety