Every year reports are observed relating to personal injuries and health infections that occur due to exposure to hazardous materials. Most of these incidents take place in the construction industry. The mining industry, for example, exposes workers to a great number of risks.
The US Department of Labor is directly responsible for maintaining the integrity of best standards and provides mining companies with guidelines as a preventive measure against life threatening job risks. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) develops and enforces safety and health rules for mining sites. It actively works with industries and other agencies to ensure and improve safety and health conditions for miners working in the United States.
Hazardous chemicals are a common sight at a mine site. It is important that mining operations comply with the documented safety and health procedures to handle hazardous chemicals.
Employees are always at risk of being exposed to certain chemicals and combinations of chemicals which present great risk to personal safety and health. Worse, it can cause explosions, fire, or release of toxic vapors. Even empty chemical storage tanks may contain residual vapors.
Even more so, mining excavations are relying on alternative fuel sources. These include vehicle tires, oil filters, and mixtures of liquid or solid hazardous waste. For such facilities that burn hazardous wastes for supplemental fuel, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked to protect the environment by enforcing regulations of burning of hazardous wastes. It also issues operating permits, specifies system designs and operating procedures.
Regulating the Work Environment
EPA requires mine sites install a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSD) in the work space. MSDs are written or printed material that provide information to identify materials and hazardous ingredients. It will educate the employees on leak and disposal procedures, protective measures for safe handling, effects of chemical reactions, as well as health and physical hazards.
In case there are hazardous chemicals present at the mine, the absence of MSDs is considered a violation of HazCom; a MSHA standard that instructs employers to deploy information to employees about the hazards of chemicals. EPA may also consider it a violation for certain mines.
MSHA requires a trained supervisor on site that oversees the handling of hazardous materials. The supervisor must conduct thorough review on information provided in MSDs, and must also ensure that chemical containers carry appropriate information on them. Mining operators will develop inventories about raw materials, additives, products, wastes, and such, and provide information on their use and final destination.
MSDs act as a source of information. They provide emergency procedures in case of spillage, the hazards of chemicals, and educate on the use of appropriate personal protective equipment.
Toxic materials can poison or injure the organs or tissues of the body. MSHA recommends the following guidelines for use of toxic materials:
- It should be secured in a locked area with minimal access
- It should be stored in minimal quantities
- It should be stored in cool areas with a constant level of humidity
- It should contain appropriate labels that warn of its toxic nature
- It should not be stored in places where workers gather
Health and Safety Hazards
MSHA considers hazards such as fire, reactions from chemicals, and toxicological effects from exposure to contaminants as the most prevailing kinds of hazards for mining personnel working in and around HWF facilities. Directions provided by MSHA in response to fires caused by HWF dictate the use of fire extinguishing agents such as dry chemical foam, carbon dioxide, and halon gas.
Other types of health and safety hazards include Chemical Reactivity and Toxicological hazards.
Transportation of Hazardous Materials
Another agency called the Department of Transportation (DOT) ensures the safety of public and emergency response personnel by regulating transportation of materials. It includes regulating activities involving hazardous materials such as shipping, packing, handling, labeling, marking, placarding, training, safety assurance during shipment, and quantity restrictions.
DOT specifies the use of labels on transportation vehicles to signal warnings to the public.
Mining operators are directed to report release of certain amounts of hazardous chemicals. MSHA considers the lack of appropriate safety procedures and practices a breach of its violations.
Mining operations can be subjected to investigation if reports regarding failure in upholding MSHA standards are observed. Hazard determination
is important. Hence, employers should train miners through an MSHA Annual Refresher training program
to develop knowledge about hazardous materials and how to handle them.