Ensuring safety from hazardous gases and materials is incredibly important within the harshness of mining environments. With potential hazards from carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4) and oxygen deficiency/enrichment, mining applications are rife with danger and it is incredibly important that those working within them are suitably equipped to enter and work safely.
Health and safety processes in mines, specifically relating to gas detection, have developed dramatically over the past century, morphing from the crude usage of methane wick wall testing, singing canaries and flame safety, to the use of modern day gas detection technologies and processes as we know them.
Mining applications are wide-spanning and therefore appropriate research is required to ensure the correct type of detection equipment is utilised, whether fixed or portable, before entry into these spaces. Correct equipment utilisation will ensure gas levels are accurately monitored and workers are alerted to dangerous concentrations within the atmosphere at the earliest opportunity.
Methane poses a very real risk in mining applications as it is released directly during the process of coal extraction. The coal removed in the physical process releases the gas which has been trapped within the coal seam and this is then distributed into the air supply of the mine, meaning it can be ingested by the workers within the mine and cause a health and safety hazard.
CO is a risk within mines during the oxidation process of coal, as well as within the oxidation of wood in pit pros and gaseous methane in the mine atmosphere. If ingested, workers can suffer from the symptoms of CO poisoning, such as dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, headaches, chest pain, and confusion. At high concentrations, CO can cause individuals to lose consciousness or worse, cause fatalities.
The Mines Regulations 2014 replaced all prior health and safety mining related regulations in the UK in April 2015. The updated regulations are based more upon the importance of risk assessments on site, with onus placed upon the mine operator instead of the manager.
Operators should ensure all safety hazards in their mine are scoped out and a system is in place to safeguard those working within it.
The Mines Regulation also requires that a workmen’s inspector is in place within each mine in order to liaise with workers and see that they are satisfied with the implemented measures. These updated standards now differ in the air quality requirements.
The regulations draw upon a plethora of other legislation, including the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH), and lays out how mine operators should undertake specific steps to ensure the ventilation systems in the underground areas of their facilities to continually protect their employees.
In Australia legislation governing the operations, and health and safety of mining processes includes The Mining Act 1978. The geographical areas that this law relates to can be found on government websites. In order to create a legislative framework that applies Australia-wide and relates to common minerals legislative regime applicable to all of the territorial sea, the country created The Offshore Minerals Act 2003 on January 1, 2011.
Further details of Australian mining operations and health and safety guidelines are included in the Mining Act 1978, the Mining Regulations 1981 and the Offshore Minerals Act 2003.