Mining is one of our country's most dangerous industries.
Miners face all the threats that workers in other heavy industrial and manufacturing settings face, compounded by working underground, in close quarters, and while completely dependent on machinery for light and air.
Consider these facts: In 2007, according to the United States' Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in private industry there were 4.3 fatalities for every 100,000 full-time workers. Among coal miners alone, that rate rose to a staggering 24.8 per 100,000 workers.
Some of the dangers that miners face are obvious; others are more hidden from view, but just as potentially deadly. Here are four of the most serious threats that miners face:
- Heat stress: The thought of sunstroke is probably the last thing on a miner's mind. After all, when you're working deep underground, the sun is far away. Heat-caused illnesses, however, are a very real concern. So much so that the United States Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has made heat illness prevention one of its top priorities. According to the MSHA fact sheeton heat illness, a body temperature higher than 100 degrees can cause headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion, seizures and loss of consciousness. Risk factors include prolonged physical labor, hot humid weather, working near heat-producing machinery, wearing PPEs and dehydration. Prevention is your best defense against heat illnesses. Take frequent breaks when working in hot conditions. Drink lots of cool water and avoid beverages high in caffeine. Avoid heavy meals just before work, stay as far away from heat-producing machinery as possible, and learn to recognize the symptoms of heat stress.
- Inattentiveness: The BLS fact sheet, "Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities in the Coal Mining Industry,"cites two things as the most frequent causes of fatal events: contact with objects or equipment and transportation incidents. Both of these point to inattention. When working in a mine, you must always be aware of your surroundings. The tight working conditions make this critical. Moving machinery must be given the right of way. You can see large trucks, carts, drills and excavators much more easily than their operators can see you, especially if you are at some distance or in one of the machine's blind spots. Always be aware of stationary equipment as well. These may have moving gears or conveyors that can entangle hair, loose clothing and even limbs, and pull them into the machinery.
- Hazardous environment: Many industrial processes expose workers to hazardous materials and environments for at least some portion of the workday. In a mine, that exposure can be continuous. Many of the materials being mined — lead, cadmium, cobalt, coal — can be hazardous when inhaled or even when absorbed through the skin. Mine workers must use their personal protective equipment (PPE) whenever it is required, including coveralls, facemasks, gloves and respirators. Careful hygiene is important, as well. You should always wash thoroughly after you have been exposed to potentially dangerous materials, especially before eating or drinking.
- Mechanical failure: All the tools, machines and equipment used in the mining process must be well maintained and in good working order to be safe. Tools should be inspected for wear. Large trucks and excavators should be on a regular maintenance schedule. The cables and cords that stabilize and power the equipment should be purpose-built for mining use; resistant to heat, chemicals and abrasions; and MSHA approved, if required. Cables and cords should also be inspected regularly and replaced immediately whenever they show signs of wear or fraying.
Every occupation has its own set of risks and benefits. It is up to everyone in the mining industry, from owners and managers down to the men and women who actually do the hard work; to be aware of the dangers that mining presents and do all that they can to prevent accidents and injuries.
Carol Sabovik is the Marketing Manager of TPC Wire & Cable Corp. in Macedonia, OH. TPC Wire & Cable supplies wire and cable products used in harsh industrial environments like mining. The company’s products are designed and engineered to withstand harsh mining applications and environments including abrasion and extreme temperatures.