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A dangerous business

Mining is one of the world's most dangerous occupations. Over the years, many serious accidents have occurred in various parts of the world, often with significant loss of life. Miners face many dangers on the job. Some of these are listed below.

Cave-ins

One of the most common of all underground mining accidents, cave-ins or mine collapses, occur when the walls and ceilings of underground mineshafts have not been properly secured. This can also happen as a result of subsidence. If a mineshaft is excavated too deeply, cracks can occur in the floor and walls of the shaft, weakening the structure. As a mineshaft is excavated, the walls and ceiling must be sprayed with a layer of concrete to strengthen them and permit safe access for miners. See image 1

Gas explosions

Gas explosions often occur in coalmines from a build-up of methane gas. Good ventilation of the work area is essential to prevent pockets of gas forming. Electrical equipment also needs to be monitored for faulty plugs or connections that can cause sparks and trigger explosions.

Chemical leaks

Mining involves the use of many toxic and dangerous chemicals. Chemicals are frequently used to transform the ores from their natural state into usable commodities. Accidents occur when the chemicals are not securely stored. Miners working with these chemicals need to have adequate ventilation to prevent the risk of inhaling dangerous fumes.

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Electrocution

The use of heavy electrical equipment such as drills, industrial machines and lighting always poses serious dangers for mining teams. If the mining environment is damp, workers can easily be electrocuted. Worn cables or plugs can trigger sparks that cause explosions. Use and storage of electrical equipment must be carefully monitored. Comprehensive safety procedures and drills must also be employed.

Fires

Fires can occur in mines for a range of reasons, the most common being gas leaks, electrical faults, or the spillage of flammable chemicals. Safety procedures need to be carefully followed to reduce risk factors. See image 2

Safety procedures

When a mine site is established, a comprehensive OHS system (occupational health and safety) has to be created. The system will involve a process for identifying and assessing risk factors, and also the measures that need to be taken to minimise them. This is usually done with the workers assigned to the task. The job is analysed and broken up into smaller parts. The opinions of the workers are taken into account, including suggestions for making the task as safe as possible.

Once the task has been assessed and a plan for tackling the job has been established, instructions need to be drawn up to create and maintain safe work practices. Safe operating procedures are designed to make the job as easy as possible, removing unnecessary tasks and reducing the risk of injury. Safety standards and practices are closely monitored throughout the project to ensure that the health and wellbeing of miners is protected.

Inspections are also carried out by independent inspectors to make sure that safety procedures are being followed and that all risk factors are noted. If safety standards are breached, the company will be cautioned and a fine may be imposed. If the company fails to comply with recommendations for safety improvements or continues to breach safety standards, this can lead to permanent closure of the mine

The Mine Safety Technology Centre

Ongoing concerns about the safety of mine workers led to the establishment of the Mine Safety Technology Centre in 2004. The centre is operated by the NSW Department of Primary Industries. It provides specialist advice and research on many aspects of mine health and safety.

The MSTC performs a range of crucial tasks to improve safety and working conditions for mining staff. It provides testing facilities for new safety equipment, mobile gas laboratories to test gas and exhaust emissions, testing of mining materials for safety and effectiveness, frequent rigorous testing of mine site safety procedures, including testing of ventilation and lighting and the regular evaluation of electrical equipment used in underground mines. See image 3


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Question 1/5

1. When do chemical accidents most commonly occur?

When they are spilt.

When miners inhale the fumes.

When they explode.

When they are not stored safely.

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