What are the Health Hazards of Mining?

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It's no surprise that mines are some of the most dangerous workplaces in the United States. In fact, mining fatalities in 2010 reached a shocking high of 71 related deaths. While the death toll has declined—in 2018 there were 27 fatal mining injuries —the associated risks are still there. Below, we will review the top mining health hazards to ensure you stay as safe as possible while working in a mine. 
  1. Dust

No matter what type of mine you work in, there will be some form of dust. The constant inhalation of dust, especially coal dust, results in pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung or coal miner's lung. Unfortunately, there are no symptoms at the onset of pneumoconiosis. However, as the disease progresses, shortness of breath and chest tightness become common.  There is no cure for miner's lung. So, miners must take extra care to avoid inhaling airborne dusts, such as coal dust, asbestos, and silica. Your employer should have a dust control plans in place, and you should wear protective gear at all times. Additionally, miners need regular health checkups to ensure these precautions are working. 
  1. Slips and Falls

One of OSHA's Fatal Four, slips and falls, aren't necessarily a health hazard on their own, but the side effects of falling certainly are. Depending on the severity of your fall, you could face broken bones, cuts, and lacerations, and even death. In fact, between the years of 2011 and 2015, there were six mining deaths called by slips and falls. The best ways to prevent slips and falls include:
  • Appropriate warning signage throughout work areas
  • Wearing personal protective equipment like non-slip work boots
  • Everyone completing mine safety training
These preventative measures will ensure you avoid the health hazards associated with slips and falls.
  1. Radon

Radon is a type of radioactive, odorless gas found in underground mines. Because it's radioactive, radon can cause cancer (specifically lung cancer) if you approach it without protection. If you work in a mine where radon is present, management should have radon reducing measures set in place. On top of those measures, you should wear protective gear and limit your shifts to minimize exposure. 
  1. Noise

With heavy machinery, drilling, and crushing, noise in mines is a real issue. Overexposure to loud noises can result in tinnitus and permanent hearing loss. Unfortunately, hearing damage isn't typically something that you notice right away; it takes a long time for the damage to be noticeable.  There are two ways to minimize the damage noise can cause: at the source and with personal protective gear. Regular machine maintenance and adding noise controls like dampeners or absorptive panels to the machines can significantly reduce the noise they produce. Miners should also wear hearing protection and get regular hearing checkups. 
  1. Mercury

Mercury exposure and poisoning is a real threat to miners. Mercury is found in about 25% of all minerals found in mines, so miners can easily inhale, swallow, or absorb mercury through their skin. It's important to note that you don't need to be exposed to a large amount of mercury at one time to experience mercury poisoning. Exposure to small amounts of mercury over a long period is typically how mercury poisoning occurs.  Mercury poisoning can result in abdominal pain, headaches, and cardiac weakness, so if mercury has been found in your mine, you must always wear your protective gear. 
  1. Polymeric Chemicals

Miners are frequently exposed to polymeric chemicals as part of their regular work. Exposure to polymeric chemicals can cause occupational asthma, and skin and eye irritation. Chemical exposure is particularly dangerous because it occurs with inhalation and minimal skin contact.  Typical prevention procedures include using personal protective equipment to handle and dispose of the chemicals. 
  1. Thermal Stress

Mines are usually very hot and humid. Exposure to this kind of temperature every day can take a major toll on a miner's body. Additionally, overexposure to heat and humidity can quickly cause someone to become overly fatigued; this fatigue is also known as thermal stress. If the mine you work in contributes to heat stress, management needs to step in to prevent it from affecting employees.  Mines should have temperature-regulating equipment, and miners should limit their exposure to the high heat. Miners should also be provided with personal protective equipment that incorporates breathable fabric and personal cooling systems. 

Learn to Safely Work in a Mine with MSHA Training

Although this blog post is a great introduction to the health hazards of working in a mine, it's not a replacement for formal mine safety training. Sign up for your mine safety training today to prepare yourself for the common mine hazards you might encounter. 

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