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Safety Focus: How to protect mine workers in oxygen-deficient atmospheres

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In the first part of this series, focusing on safety concerns in industrial environments, Ferret.com.au looked at identifying the right equipment to use when accessing stock at height.

Here the focus is on mine safety, and ways to ensure that mine workers are not exposed to oxygen-deficient atmospheres, or if they are, that they are properly trained to deal with the situation.

WorkSafe Victoria relates a recent incident at a mine site where workers in a light vehicle entered a section of a mine after the ventilation flow through the area had been interrupted. The vehicle was unable to reverse up a decline to exit the affected area, resulting in the workers exiting by foot.

Due to the restricted ventilation flow, upon exiting the mine workers reported symptoms of oxygen deprivation, including light headedness and an increased breathing rate.

The area of the mine was dependent on natural airflow ventilation, but the geometry of the mine in that section meant that rising water levels could interrupt the ventilation flow through the working section.

WorkSafe notes that the lack of ventilation was not detected and no workers wore self-rescuers when exiting the area on foot. Importantly, it was not realised that the oxygen-deficient atmosphere could have a negative impact on the vehicle engine power and result in poor engine performance.

WorkSafe recommends that adequate preparation be undertaken before work starts in an underground environment. This includes ensuring that:
  • work is planned so it can be done safely, including the maintenance of recommended levels of ventilation during and after the abandonment of mine working areas
  • consideration is given to the removal of dewatering or associated infrastructure, that may have the potential to impact primary ventilation flow
  • workers are aware of mine ventilation standards and requirements
  • gas monitoring information and training is made available to workers for early detection of harmful gases or low oxygen levels when re-entering unventilated areas; and
  • the potential for hazardous atmospheres are identified during the safety assessment process, and comprehensive control measures are implemented and functional.
After work is underway, employers should ensure:
  • active mine workings are routinely inspected
  • gas monitoring information and training is made available to workers for early detection of harmful gases or low oxygen levels when re-entering unventilated areas
  • workers are competent in the use of self-rescuers and trained in hazard identification; and
  • there is a system to ensure all unused and unventilated workings are barricaded to prevent unauthorised access and control hazards of re-entry into the area.
Ferret.com.au lists a number of companies that specialise in mining safety equipment for just these purposes. Draeger Safety Pacific, for example, stocks a range of personal safety mining equipment, in addition to providing training to ensure that workers know how to use the equipment properly.

For monitoring of oxygen and other gas levels, the company supplies a variety of detecting and monitoring equipment that features a high level of reliability and rapid warning against harmful gas concentrations.

In underground environments with a high degree of ambient noise, 3M Safety Products provides hearing protection and communication headsets that are designed for comfort and ease of use.

BOC offers industrial safety workwear designed for use in hazardous workplace environments, designed to strict Australian and New Zealand safety standards.

This is a brief breakdown of some of the companies listed on Ferret.com.au that specialise in safety equipment for mines, though it is by no means exhaustive. For more information, and to compare mine safety equipment from different companies, head over to Ferret's complete Mining Safety and Personal Equipment directory.

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