Safety When Working in Mines
Because of the closure of so many mines in the UK in the past couple of decades, there are no longer the same number of accidents and fatalities that occur within this environment. Nevertheless, there are still well over 100 active underground coal mines and opencast coal sites which are still operational today and they can be very hazardous environments in which to work unless rigid health and safety precautions are taken.
As well as the reduction in fatalities and serious injuries due to the decline in the number of operational mines, improvements in this area are also due to new regulations which have replaced most of the Mines & Quarries Act 1954 and health and safety matters are, today, the responsibility of a joint policy effort between the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and the stakeholders in the mines themselves who work together to ensure that all health and safety risks are minimised through policy and legislation.
The HSE has its own Hazardous Installations Directorate which is responsible for the implementation of policy directives in a number of industries deemed to be potentially ‘hazardous’, including mining. Their role involves them inspecting mines regularly, investigating any accidents and major incidents, provides help and advice on risk assessment and risk management and works with stakeholders to identify and define the good practice in the assessment and management of major potential hazards.
Types of Illness and Injury
Because of the many different roles performed within the mining industry, it can produce a broad spectrum of illnesses and injuries. It has long been associated with lung related diseases such as emphysema and pneumoconiosis and although both of these diseases still have the potential to occur, there have been vast improvements in reducing the number of sufferers thanks to new measures which have been introduced over recent times. However, there are other common health issues which mining companies must be vigilant about.
These include the problems caused by noise induced hearing loss, musculoskeletal disorders, vibration and working in excess heat and humidity, to name just a few, which all have the potential to cause damage to health and can play a major role in causing sickness and disease so reducing the health risks posed by these issues and putting proper control measures in place to minimise the risks is still a major focus today.
Many mining companies also employ occupational health managers who have a number of roles to fulfil. These include reducing workers’ ill health by ensuring that proper controls are in place to minimise the effects on health that working in a mine can present. They are responsible for health surveillance and for ensuring that routine medicals are carried out on workers on a regular basis and for establishing the various types of hazards associated with the different types of mine-based work and ensuring that all relevant policies and procedures, control systems and management systems are adhered to.
To work in this capacity, occupational health managers will have gained qualifications such as a NEBOSH certificate or diploma which is directly aimed at occupational health and safety professionals and which provides them with the skills and knowledge to investigate accidents, design and implement safe systems at work and of working practices alongside accident prevention programmes. Those who pass this examination will also be fully knowledgeable about all the relevant health and safety legislation.
Therefore, whilst it’s accepted that working in a mine still represents a more hazardous occupation than many others in industry, continuous efforts are constantly being made to ensure that levels of illness and injuries as a result of working in the mining industry are reduced still further.