Common Health Risks in Mining Industry

These are some of the health risks that are likely to cause illness in the mine workers, and whose effects may not be felt immediately after exposure. Understanding and being aware of your environment is the first step to preventing illness in the workplace.

Common Health Risks in Mining Industry

Mines can be hazardous environments and the possibility of fire, flood, explosion and collapse has the potential to simultaneously affect a large number of individuals. There are also health risks that are likely to cause illness in the workers, and whose effects may not be felt immediately after exposure. Understanding and being aware of your environment is the first step to preventing illness in the workplace.

The following are some of the common health risks to watch out for in the mining industry.

  1. Coal dust

Dust inhalation or coal dust is one of the most common concern for miners. Mining companies need to develop a dust control plan, and supervisors should ensure that dust control system are working properly for every production shift. Mine workers should be trained on the hazards of overexposure to coal mine dust. Respiratory protection should be used when dust control protection is being installed, maintained or repaired.

  1. Noise

Mines are noisy places, with the constant of drilling and heavy machinery, and the potential for hearing damage is quite serious. To protect workers against noise, mining companies should evaluate working conditions and noise exposure through risk assessments.

  1. Whole body vibration

Whole body vibration (WBV) is a slow forming physical hazard that occurs in mining workers and other occupations that work with heavy machinery. Symptoms of  WBV include musculoskeletal disorders, reproductive damages in females ,vision impairment ,digestive problems and cardiovascular changes. Where risks cannot be avoided, supervisors should reduce the time for which the employees uses the machine each day.

  1. UV Exposure

For open-pit miners, understanding the risk of over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight is essential. Over exposure of ultraviolet rays can put you at risk of skin cancer. Employers should conduct a risk assessment on outdoor work scheduled to assist in developing appropriate sun protection measures.

  1. Musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) refer to any problems affecting your bones, muscles, blood vessels and nerves. Mine workers are exposed to a variety of potential health risks that fall under this broad category. While musculoskeletal damage can occur due to a trip, fall or heavy lift, the more serious ones occur slowly over time. This could be due to ongoing heavy lifting or repetitive strains.

Preventing MSDs needs to be a key part of every workplace health and safety program. In safe and healthy workplaces, employers should identify and assess job-related MSD hazards and put in place controls to reduce workers’ exposure to MSD hazards.

Furthermore, workers should be advised and trained about MSD hazards in their job and workplace and should be encouraged to participate in health and safety programs through early reporting of MSD symptoms or concerns to their supervisors. Employers should follow up to ensure preventative measures are working.

  1. Thermal stress

Mining environments are often very hot and humid, which over time can cause thermal (heat) stress in workers. Overexposure to heat and humidity can cause the body to become fatigued and distressed. This can result in heat stroke or more serious ongoing health problems.

Where there is a possibility of heat stress occurring, companies need to carry out a risk assessment that considers the work rate, working climate and worker clothing and respiratory protective equipment. Where possible, control the temperature using engineering solutions, provide mechanical aids where possible to reduce the work rate, and regulate the length of exposure to hot environments.

Furthermore, personal protective equipment should be provided, such as specialized protective clothing that incorporates personal cooling systems or breathable fabrics. Companies should also provide training for workers, especially new and young employees, and monitor the health of workers at risk.

  1. Chemical exposure

Mine workers are often exposed to harmful chemicals. Each chemical has a unique set of hazards and needs to be handled properly to ensure worker safety, so employers need to conduct risk assessments to establish best practices. Artisanal gold miners for instance sometimes use mercury recover minute pieces of gold that is mixed in soil and sediments. Prolonged and high exposure to mercury by inhalation damages the nervous, digestive, and immune systems. To prevent this, a standard operating procedure that addresses the use of correct personal protective equipment, safe handling, safe use and proper disposal of chemicals should be established.

Source: Mining Review Africa

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