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Electrification in Mining Growth Boosts Safety

By Christine Torres

Equipment on surface mining site

Electrical power has been increasingly driving the mining industry for years in the United States. However, there is a push in the industry to globally embrace electrically powered equipment, which not only boost earnings but also lower the industry’s carbon footprint and improve safety.

Mining Industry Improvements

While the number of fatalities in mining are declining, there still are no shortages of hazards. The Mine Safety and Health Administration reports 26 fatalities in the mining industry in 2015. According to MSHA’s 2016 data, some of the top surface and underground mining injuries come from:

  • Housekeeping: Address equipment defects immediately. Keep passages and other pathways clear. Make sure storerooms are neat and orderly. Mark inspection or service areas.
  • Hazardous conditions: Hazards should be removed before work or travel is permitted in an area. Install barriers to prevent entry into hazardous areas not being attended to.
  • Moving machine parts: Machine guards must be in place.
  • Electrical conductors: Electrical conductors should be correct for the type of current capacity and adequately protected for the mining environment.
  • Combustible materials: Coal dust is a major culprit. Deposits of any combustible material should not be allowed to accumulate in working areas or equipment.
  • Ventilation: Proper ventilation controls of diesel exhaust from machinery should be in place.

MSHA and NIOSH partnered up on diesel exhaust safety a few years ago. They are working to gather more information and data on approaches to control and monitor miners' exposures to diesel exhaust. They will meet again in March 2019.

To help further evolve mining industry technology, electric vehicle production is booming with lithium-ion being a popular alternative to diesel for high longevity. According to mining equipment manufacturer Epiroc, the company has increased its line of diesel-free underground mining equipment such as electric drill rigs, loaders, ground support machinery and trucks.

"We are committed to science and technology at Epiroc, and we willingly assume our responsibility in reducing the mining industry's carbon footprint," said Clint Byington, a manager at Epiroc U.S. “Our goal is zero-emission mining. This is a significant power change."

Along with zero-emissions, there are other benefits to having more diesel-free equipment on a mine site, including worker health. There are no fumes, which helps improve the air quality for workers and reduces breathing hazards. Also, the technology is quieter. This reduces hearing hazards and lessens musculoskeletal injuries from heavy equipment vibrations.

Use Best Practices

Do not enter sign on mining entrance

Along with increasing more electrical energy use instead of diesel, mining leadership can help mitigate hazards to prevent injuries through developing and communicating a site-wide safety plan. Identify equipment, proper personal protective equipment and overall workplace instruction by using specific mining industry signs and labels. Keep worker training up to date through toolbox talks that include visuals and important information. Ensuring safety can maximize efficiency and productivity for all miners involved in a project or task through continuous improvement. This saves in production time and costs by removing unnecessary downtime.  

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