Did you know that mines are considered the most dangerous place for using electrical power? In fact, the electrical fatality rate in the mining industry is 8-12 times higher than in other industries. Additionally, three out of four mining injuries are related to electricity. However, electricity is a necessary evil, so measures must be taken to mitigate the risks associated with using electricity in mines.
Below, we will take a look at common ways electricity causes mining injuries and fatalities and how to practice electrical safety in mines.
The Use of Electrical Systems
As you know, electricity is an integral part of modern mining, but in order to use electricity within the mine, an electrical system must be installed. It’s essential that when you’re installing an electrical system or power distribution center that you’re using construction-grade electrical materials than are approved for use in mines. Take this a step further by adding sheathing materials to electrical conductors and insulators; this will ensure that your equipment is safe for use in mines.
Additionally, you should double-check that your conduit fittings and connectors are insulated and can handle high resistances; this will prevent any sparking or overheating. Finally, when installing your electrical system, you’ll need to ensure it is sufficiently grounded (where at least one system has physical contact with the ground). Following these high-level guidelines around the use of electrical systems will set you up for success.
The Use of Electrical Equipment
The main reason electrical systems are installed is to provide the electricity needed to power equipment. The easiest way to prevent electrical hazards when using equipment in mines is by only using low-voltage electrical equipment. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible and oftentimes high-voltage equipment is necessary. No matter what voltage your equipment is, you’ll want to ensure the equipment is compatible with the installed electrical system.
You should double-check that cable coverings and conducting screens are properly sealed to protect the integrity of conductors and insulation. Bolted or restrained plugs and sockets should also be implemented to prevent any system changes being made by unauthorized workers. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to what electrical equipment is being used at any given point in time.
Preventing Electrical System or Equipment Damage
Nothing is scarier than a piece of electrical-powered equipment running haywire. While these malfunctions can’t always be prevented, malfunctions caused by equipment damage certainly can be. As soon as you see damaged equipment or any electrical equipment defects, disconnect the equipment or system from the power source. If the equipment can be quickly repaired, great, but if not, it should be locked away until appropriate repairs can be made. Don’t just set the broken equipment aside, someone who is unaware of the defect might pick it up and start using it.
In the case of an emergency caused by electrical equipment failure, workers should be trained in the use of emergency equipment. Emergency equipment should be placed throughout the mineshaft so that no matter where the emergency happens, employees can appropriately respond.
Why are Mines Prone to Electrical Hazards?
While untamed electricity can be problematic in any situation, within mines, electricity is particularly deadly. Here’s why:
- Many mines have dangerous levels of flammable gas and dust
- Electrical equipment used in mines is frequently underqualified for use in mines
- Varying environmental conditions like dampness, vibration, and humidity create an unstable work environment
Luckily, government agencies like the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have prioritized the health and safety of mines and mine workers. Both agencies are continuously involved in extensive research in preventing mining electrical injuries and deaths.
In addition to this research, MSHA has set guidelines for working with electricity in mines. MSHA electrical standards can be viewed in their 30 C.F.R. Part 56.12 volume.
Learn About Safety with MSHA Surface Miner Training
While we certainly hope this blog post has been helpful in teaching you how to prepare for and avoid electrical hazards in mines, it’s not a substitute for formal MSHA electrical safety training. Take our Surface Miner Training course for the most up-to-date information on electrical hazards in mining. Sign up today!