Digging In to Improve Mining Safety: Pain Points and Solutions

Mining safety is on an upswing in recent years. Approximately 230,000 miners work across 11,500 metal/nonmetal mines in the U.S., while 64,000 work in the nation’s 1,000 coal mines. The mining sector employs 3.7 million+ workers worldwide and is structured according to the substance being mined, the type of excavation taking place (either surface mining or underground mining) and by the mine’s lifecycle/development phase. Environmental and safety concerns/priorities change based on the substance being mined, the type of excavation and the phase of the lifecycle.  

In 2020, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reported 29 mining fatalities, making it the sixth consecutive year that mining fatalities were below 30. Among those fatalities, five occurred in coal mines, a historic low.

Three deaths occurred in Kentucky and Louisiana; two each in Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia; and one each in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington.

After a two-year increase in 2017 and 2018 when about half of all deaths resulted from powered haulage accidents, such as vehicle-on-vehicle collisions, failure to use a functioning seat belt, and conveyor belt accidents, MSHA responded with a multifaceted education campaign and initiated rulemaking. By 2020, powered haulage deaths dropped to 21 percent. The Year 2020 also marked the first year in MSHA’s history with no seatbelt-related deaths, and conveyor-related deaths dropped from four in 2017 to one in 2020.

As required, MSHA inspected all underground mines at least four times per year and surface mines at least twice per year in 2020, in a year when 15 percent of inspectors self-identified as high-risk for the coronavirus under CDC guidelines. Between March 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, MSHA issued 195 citations for sanitary conditions that could have contributed to coronavirus.

The mining industry achieved its highest compliance with MSHA’s health standards, which protect the long-term health of miners. The year 2020 saw all-time-low average concentrations of respirable dust and respirable quartz in underground coal mines, as well as exposure to dust and quartz for miners at highest risk of overexposure to respirable dust.

Learn more about the most-violated MSHA standards and what mine operators can do to improve mining safety and reduce injuries and fatalities in Digging Deep to Discover Where and How Miners Are Being Hurt.

Mining Safety and Health Pain Points and Solutions

Pain Point: Managing permits—Requirements for permitting mines can be extensive and complicated, particularly for large mines. In some cases, it can be a multi-year process, involving dozens of individual permits.
Solution: Permits Management Software

Pain Point: Waste removal/water management—Although covered under permits, it is useful to understand that mine waste can pose serious environmental risk. Major breaches of tailings ponds have made headlines. Water at mine sites is frequently monitored, and in extreme cases, water treatment sludge may be classified as hazardous waste and require special handling and disposal. 
Solutions: Water Quality Management Software, Waste Management Software

Pain Point: Reputational damage—While modern practices have improved safety and decreased fatalities and have diminished environmental impact, the industry still suffers from the reputation of being a dirty and unsafe industry. Failures in waste management continue to draw criticism from local communities and contributes to the negative public perception.  
Solution: Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Software

Pain Point: Stakeholder management—The environmental impact of mining often puts mining companies in the position of needing to address and manage the concerns of Aboriginal and environmental groups in a formalized way.  
Solutions: Communication Management Software, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Software

Pain Point: Contract worker safety—The mining industry relies on contract workers, and these contractors typically are overrepresented in fatal mining accidents. Ensuring that contractors receive appropriate training is a challenge for mine operators.  
Solutions: Training Management Software, Bulletins

Pain Point: Aging workforce—Like many other industries, a significant portion of the mining workforce is reaching retirement age. Training needs will increase for new, inexperienced workers. 
Solutions: Training Management Software, Bulletins, Behavior-Based Safety Software

This entry was posted in EHSQ and tagged , , by Sandy Smith. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the Global EHSQ Content Lead for Intelex Technologies. Formerly the Content Director for EHS Today, she has been writing about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990. Her work as a journalist and editor has been recognized with national and international awards. She has been interviewed about occupational safety and health for national business publications, documentaries and television programs; has served as a panelist on roundtables; and has provided the keynote address for occupational safety and health conferences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *