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Golden Opportunities in Modern Mining Safety

By Christine Torres

Mining equipment operation warning sign

When a worker enters the drift mouth of a mine to embark on a treacherous hunt for gold, the dangers that await deep down into the hot earth are more than what any video game can demonstrate. Labor that once was backbreaking and primitive in the 1800s has given way to large industrial mines that increasingly use modern technology such as computerized heavy equipment, robotic coworkers, and virtual reality training.

Improvements in Mining

A large team of miners in Canada are ramping up for the start of building a $500 million gold mine. Construction of the open cast mine should take about a year to complete before it can go into full production. To extract the gold out of the finely ground earth, miners will use a cyanide heap leach pad. In this closely monitored amalgamation process, gold will be in the solution and brought out of the solution to form an ingot.

Mining creates power, infrastructure, and jobs. Gold is heavy, hard, and it requires digging deep to extract from an areas rich earthen core. There is more technology these days than 50 years ago when a lot of miners had to work pretty much manually and work in a low crawl position. Open cast mining, while safer than tunnel mining, is a process that requires the use of heavy powered moving equipment. Large drills create holes, which are then packed with explosives to blast away mountain walls. The dirt and rock then go through a refining process. Large excavators load and haul away dirt and rock. Some of the risks miners of any type can face are not easily prevented, and some dangers cannot be prevented at all.

Technology is becoming an integral part of mining operations, not only to help improve productivity, but also worker safety. Computer simulations can ensure worksite resources are maximized. Haul trucks equipped with smart driving technology can trek up spiral roads, while control centers monitor the vehicles using GPS-like tracking. Technology is also a way to teach newcomers on heavy equipment simulators and virtual reality systems.

electrical hazard and equipment shut down safety signs

“Learning to operate a piece of heavy equipment in the hustle and bustle of a mine, with horns tooting and machines moving all around them can be incredibly stressful,” said Rio Tinto digital trainer Tony Maurice. “Simulators remove that anxiety and create more suitable conditions for learning, and also allow us to challenge more experienced operators with emergencies that even industry veterans have not encountered.”

Mining Best Practices

For 40 years in the United States, the Mining Safety and Health Administration has been assisting in increasing mine safety. Mining accidents tend to increase in spring when many intermittently operated mining operations begin producing again, MSHA says, often with new employees who are unaware of the hazards of mining. In 2017, surface mining for metal saw 3,894 total violations. At least 276 of those violations were the result of not having proper visual communication. Inform workers of hazards in and around the mining worksite by marking power controls, defective devices, and hazardous chemical containers using labels and warning signs.

According to MSHA, among the best practices miners can follow are: 

  • Think about the task: Does the miner have adequate training, knowledge, skills and equipment to do the job safely? Does the miner need help to complete the job?
  • Always inform a responsible person where the miner will be working and traveling in the mine.
  • Before beginning any task, identify the hazards.
  • Don’t take shortcuts.
  • Use customary check-in/check-out procedures.

Create safety awareness in mining work environments through chemical labeling and other forms of warning using safety data sheets, utilizing safety best practices, and consistent employee training. 

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