Safety at a Mine: Challenges of Winter
Mining is an inherently dangerous job. Millions of workers dedicate their lives to this profession where they deal with safety issues every minute of the day. Wearing hardhats and protective gear may be a safety habit, but there are other concerns to be aware of as surface miners. In particular, the winter season poses specific threats to workers and the mine itself. Explore the challenges of winter and how to stay safe each day. Icy Passageways. A primary, safety concern during the winter is icy or snowy passageways. These areas include walkways and roads. Workers walking down any pathway that's not properly cleared can slip and fall. Because many areas around a mine are steep, these falls can be serious types. Roads within the mining area can quickly accumulate ice and snow. The mining company must prioritize path-clearing operations so that each vehicle passes without an incident. Heavy machinery often moves across these roads. Maintain safety and productivity with roads sprinkled with salt on a regular basis. Accidents among heavy machinery will result in catastrophic problems. Poor Visibility. Surface mining is largely open to the elements as a large section of land is systematically pulled from the ground. Because of its open design, poor visibility can be an issue. Fog, snow and other wintry effects may plague a job site for days. Machine operators cannot see the work below them, and hauling vehicles struggle to visualize the road. Visibility issues can be solved with proactive moves at the job site. Set up proper lighting to see through certain conditions. Make it a point to shut down operations if serious, visibility impairments persist. The job site runs better with safety as a main priority. Highwall Instability. Most mines have at least one highwall that supports the job site's physical edge. This wall can be incredibly tall if the mining work is in its advanced stages. As winter sets in, the highwall deals with expansion and contraction. The sun rises and directly strikes the highwall. Although it's still a cold day, the sunlight warms the highwall. The materials expand, which may lead to crumbling. Contraction occurs as night and cold set in. All of this daily movement must be observed by the site managers. If an instability issue occurs on the highwall, it must be solved before any work can be performed at the site. This dust can cause an explosion if it's not controlled. Site managers must be aware of rock dust and its accumulation in the mine's atmosphere. Methane-Gas Accumulation. Cold weather is also associated with low, barometric-pressure readings. The low pressure gives rise to methane gas seeping into the mine. Methane is a flammable gas, which means that any spark can set it off. Methane detectors should be a constant at any mine. If the methane levels rise, managers must vacate the area and neutralize the situation. Site managers may want to try different strategies to reduce methane-gas threats, such as using fans or other air-moving tools. Maintaining a safe atmosphere is key to any mine's success. Encouraging Safety on a Daily Basis. Job-site managers must be proactive about their safety management. Post images, reminders and set an example by always following the safety rules. Insist on EM385 Safety Training before anyone visits or works the job site. Attending one, 40-hour-long class cannot be the only training performed by the employees, however. Offer continuing education in the form of refresher classes. Give out pocket cards for each employee so that everyone has a reference in an emergency. These handy cards go everywhere with the person so that there's never a question about protocols. Safety is the job of every person at the mine. If you observe an issue, report it to your immediate supervisor. With everyone banding together for the good of the mine, this unique workplace can remain a safe space for every worker.