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Health and Safety 

 
Authors: Jack Caldwell

Summary

This review describes the laws, regulations, practices, and procedures involved in mine safety. We also survey the suppliers and consultants who service the mining industry with regard to health and safety services and equipment.

INTRODUCTION

I shudder to think how often I climbed unsecured ladders, jumped for a wildly swinging blondin bucket, or slithered over slippery penstock pipes surrounded by wet concrete. At my first job men died on the site:

  • Soon after I arrived someone fell from a block to the river below.
  • Two cranes toppled when a fiery Italian ignored the trip limits.
  • One sunny Saturday my boss died flying stunts in his little plane.

All this happened at the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam construction site, later renamed the Gariep Dam. Its website has many photos of this beautiful dam.

Gariep Dam (Photo credit: DWAF)

Today I would not do what I did then, nor countenance what I allowed to be done. I am older and I am wiser. Training sessions in health and safety for radioactive and hazardous waste and work on construction sites under skilled health and safety professionals have taught me.

This is my personal list of what it takes to have a successful health and safety program:

  • Maintain a well written Health and Safety Plan (HASP).
  • Employ and empower a skilled health and safety professional.
  • Enforce health and safety standards and procedures.
  • Train all the people who work on the site.
  • Have a tailgate meeting every morning and before any new or unusual activity.
  • Practice incident control.
  • Practice continuous performance improvement in a non-accusatory environment.
  • Audit health and safety practices and procedures independently.
  • Bar anyone from the site who violates heath and safety procedures.
Operating Industries landfill, Los Angeles

These simple precepts were followed to the tee on the Operating Industries Inc. Landfill site, the largest hazardous waste landfill in the U.S. During the four-year, hundred million-dollar construction program, there were no fatalities and nobody was hurt that I recall.

Credit for this goes to Jill Saminago, a tiny lady, who as health and safety officer took on and beat out a project manager three times her size when he sought to evade health and safety protocol. She kicked men off the site never to return: technicians and engineers alike who failed to wear seat belts in cars and harnesses on roofs were summarily sent away and replaced. She ran the daily tailgate meetings with verve and determination. The men loved and feared her and respected her power and determination to keep them safe.

She made me review all my work practices before I was allowed to dig a test pit on the side of the 1.3:1 slope 300 feet above the freeway so that I could design the cover. Sometimes she slowed construction, but everybody lived. And that is enough to justify her approach and make her a model in my book.

Foster Wheeler did it successfully, but I find it hard to envisage a mine company head-office firing the mine manager because he tried to thwart the health and safety officer. I find it hard to envisage a union countenancing its members been banned from the site for failing to wear a seat belt or harness.

That is what it takes to keep people alive, but does the mining industry have the will and the way? Read on.


BASIC PRINCIPLES

The International Labor Organization C176 Safety and Health in Mines Convention sets out the basic requirements for national practices for mine health and safety.

The wonderful volume Safety and Health in Small-Scale Surface Mines put out by The International Labor Office in Geneva, describes in simple terms and clear figures the basics of a health and safety approach for small mines. I suspect it may be worth having all surface miners read this as a refresher to reviewing their operations, however big and sophisticated their operations.

Recent event in West Virginia and China show that mine health and safety attitudes and practices vary from country to country. MSHA's Compendium Of Links to International Mining Law lists some of the laws that pertain to health and safety in different countries.

In the United States mine health and safety falls under MSHA, OSHA, and NIOSH; the details of their respective roles & responsibilities need not delay us-but see the web sites for the U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The states play a role but generally national organizations govern practice.

I am told this is not the situation in Canada or Australia, where the provinces control mine health and safety and set their own provincial regulations. So you need to go to the websites of the various jurisdictions to get information. There are too many to list, but the procedure is obvious and painless thanks to Google. Here are the links for Australia and Ontario, for example.

The best way to find out what each Canadian province wants and does is to go to the 1984 Enterprises Inc site where there is a clickable map that takes you to resources relevant to mining-related health and safety in the selected province.


NEWS

My personalized Google newspaper has a special section on Mine Health and Safety news. To keep abreast of mine health and safety news, simply do a Google search with these keywords "mine health and safety news" and you will get updated information immediately.


SOURCES OF INFORMATION

The internet is awash in resources; there is no excuse for not being informed about mine health and safety. The best and most comprehensive source of information are the MSHA pages. For example the page on Safety & Health Topics you will find links and articles on every conceivable aspect of mine health and safety.

If you seek in-depth coverage and have money, a $524 annual subscription will bring you 24 issues of Mine Health and Safety News from Legal Publications Services.

Two sites where much sober information is available are Mine Safety Training, Inc. and SafetyMine.

The most-fun-to-use site and the one I like best is the U.S. Mine Rescue Association where you will find news on mine accidents, mine-safety books, discussion forums, and even [believe it] mining music.

A much more sober and serious source of mine safety information is the website of the International Society of Mine Safety Professionals. Here you will find a discussion forum and information about upcoming courses on mine safety. According to their website, the society sponsors the Certified Mine Safety Professional designation.

An excellent site is MINEsafe hailing from Australia. They describe themselves thus: MINEsafe is a work in progress and provides an interactive framework for mineworkers' to have access to worlds best practice on OH&S through the use of information communication technology (ICT).


SUPPLIERS

I like the following statement regarding safety from Orica Mining Services so much that I repeat it in its entirety. They say they will:

  • strive to ensure our facilities operate to the highest standards to protect our employees, contractors, neighbors and the environment.
  • continue to seek ways to efficiently use materials and energy.
  • sell only those products that can be produced, transported, stored, used and disposed of safely.
  • provide appropriate information and/or training on the safe use and disposal of our products to our customers and consumers.
  • seek to develop new or improved products and processes to improve the contribution we make to the quality of people's lives and to minimize the impact on the environment.
  • require every employee and contractor working for us to comply with relevant legislation and with this policy and we will provide them with the necessary training.
  • encourage employee initiatives that contribute to a safer and improved environment at work, at home and in the community.
  • set challenging targets and measure progress to ensure we continuously improve our safety, health and environmental performance.
  • communicate openly about our activities and report progress on our safety, health and environmental performance.

CONSULTANTS

SafetyMine lists and provides links to consultants in wide range of mine health and safety practices.

At the top of this page you will see a banner for 1984 Enterprises Inc. In the interests of full disclosure, I note that this is a paid ad; however, I hasten to assure you that because I am retired and write for Infomine for fun and not profit, I write about what interests me, and not because anybody directs me.

I was honored on a sunny winter day to have lunch in a beautiful Vancouver restaurant overlooking the snow-capped mountains with the founder and owner of 1984 Enterprises Inc, Lise Tompson. We chatted for over three hours about the basic issues of Canadian mine health and safety and the specifics of what her company does. Here is my description of what she and her staff do.

Imagine you are a small or mid-sized exploration and/or mining company. You do not have head-office health and safety staff. But you are running far-flung drilling and exploration programs. Contact Lise Tompson and she will set up and run the health and safety program for the exploration program. She will write your health and safety plan, get your drilling permits, train your staff in health and safety procedures, put professionals on site to help keep your staff safe and healthy, audit your operations, and keep your health and safety records.

On her website is a 22-page Manual that I recommend both to get a better idea of the scope of the company services and simply if you want an overview of what should be in an exploration program health and safety plan.

On the topic of mine exploration safety, I know of no better resource than the volume Safety Manual Mineral Exploration in Western Canada available free on the web and put out by the Safety Committee of the British Columbia & Yukon Chamber of Mines - Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia.

J T Boyd provides so fine an overview of their services in mine health and safety that I cannot resist copying and repeating much of it here. I trust they will forgive me for repeating them to illustrate the essentials of a proper approach to mine health and safety:

Our emphasis on instilling safety and health as values and integrating these critical components into a company's overall business strategy is the key to creating a culture of prevention, and helping control loss in order to maximize return on investment. Services we offer include:
  • Safety Systems Management - Guiding management on or in the development of a comprehensive health & mine safety system.
  • Benchmarking - Mine Safety & Health - Creating opportunity for continuous improvement through the identification of best practices, and on targets that create and promote sustainable results.
  • Reviews (Audits) - Evaluating strategic components of the health and mine safety system to determine the effectiveness of systems management.
  • Strategic Planning for Safety - Designing long-term safety processes and solutions that are focused on achievement of the organization's stated objectives.
  • Risk Analysis - Identifying potential and existing hazards and assessing the risk of those hazards in order to provide a proactive process of control before harm or loss occurs, and determining whether existing or planned control methods are adequate.
  • Emergency Preparedness/Response - Developing emergency preparedness plan which outlines defined procedures and responsibilities, knowing how to adequately prepare to respond to an unplanned event, assisting in the actual execution of the plan, and helping ensure a safe rescue or recovery operation.
  • Incident Investigations - Providing support in incident (accident) investigations and analysis of the underlying causal factors leading to the incident.

I liked this mission statement from Arbor Safety Consulting Services Ltd:

To provide the most current, concise and relevant safety information, training programs and advice available to meet or exceed our clients needs in a timely manner, at an affordable price. To assist organizations in health and safety issues relating to workplace safety and health, and to bring you broad and deep expertise, and a comprehensive range of health and safety solutions.

I suspect Mr. Martin is busy. My reasons flow naturally from reading his qualifications:

Martin Consulting is a Limited Liability Company registered in the state of West Virginia which is designed to provide professional consulting and educational services to organizations committed to improving their overall level of health and safety. The principal is Tim A. Martin who previously held several key health and safety leadership positions for an international power utility and mining company located in the eastern region of the United States.
Under his leadership and expertise, Mr. Martin provided the necessary direction and assistance to senior management in building a world-class health and safety program. Mr. Martin's guidance allowed their operations to achieve the lowest intermediate safety rate in the nation as ranked by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Mine Health and Safety Administration.

Good news is news about a new consulting company. It is always good to hear of a new venture and to see in motion the eternal human quest for moving forward. On this basis I make bold to provide below an edited version of an e-mail attachment that came to me from someone I have only been able to "talk to" electronically.

Christensen and Engineering Consulting Services Inc. (ECSI) announced the creation of a joint venture, Global Mining RiSC LLC ("GMR"). This new corporation will provide risk analysis; safety and training oversight; and crisis avoidance-and-communications services.

GMRs goal is to partner with senior management at coal, hard rock and aggregate operations to:

1. Analyze risks, safety, and environmental performance, and programs and recommend safety and environmental systems enhancements.

2. Provide modern crisis avoidance tools by developing background information, action plans, training and key staff in the event of a serious incident.

GMRs senior-level staff include:

  • J. Steven Gardner President/CEO of Lexington, Kentucky-based ECSI. Gardner has worked as an engineer and manager in both mining operations and consulting engineering during his over-30-year career and served on a mine rescue team. His consulting practice focuses on energy, natural resources, environmental, health and safety, sensitive land use issues, and industrial heritage projects.
  • Richard W. Phelps Vice President, Christensen, has over 30 years experience in silver and potash to coal and shaft sinking, editorial management of the international Engineering & Mining Journal, where he also authored scores of feature articles on coal, metal and non-metal mining operations. He has served on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) committee prioritizing mine-safety research..

GMRs advisory board is comprised of the following:

  • Dr. R. Larry Grayson Led the recent National Mining Association-sponsored, independent Mine Safety Technology and Training Commission. He established and leads the multi-year, $4-million, federal government-sponsored, western U.S. Mining Safety and Health Training and Translation Center (a consortium of western universities).
  • David A. Zegeer Former United States Assistant Secretary of Labor, for Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Zegeer is an experienced mining executive, with several decades experience managing a large, multi-mine complex producing millions of tons annually.
  • Dr. Stanley Suboleski Recently. served on the U.S. Department of Labors Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and has served on the National Review Board for Mining Safety and Health Research, NIOSH..
  • Dr. John Wilson Is an independent consultant with broad experience in international mining in Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. His decades of experience include executive- and mine-management and engineering in coal and metalliferous mines, as well as mining equipment and geotechnical-consulting companies.
  • Robert Leahy Managing Director, Christensen, has over 25 years experience in communications with particular knowledge of crisis and media management.

Recently, the NMA-sponsored, independent Mine Safety Technology and Training Commission, which was formed in response to the three mine disasters of early 2006, issued its findings. GMRs services are aligned with the Commissions 75 recommendations aimed at providing a very high level of protection for miners.

More ideas on how to get the word out about your product and your services. I am not sure how M.A.C.S.S. (Mining and Construction Safety Specialists) does it, but the result works for me, and probably will for you. Intrigued I went to their site at this link. Seems as though there are two fellows providing services to the Australian mining industry in health and safety. Here are extracts about their services and their backgrounds (I repeat this simply because I find it interesting and hope it will augment your health and safety programs and keep people alive):

M.A.C.S.S. is two professional safety specialists that have over 45 years experience between them in both the mining and construction industries. They are:

Gary Mounsey: 25 years experience including external and internal auditing, coordination of OH&S and competency-based training, mine site mobilization, review and development of safety management systems, and accident investigation.

Kym Mitchell: 20 years experience including advanced communication, negotiation and problem solving skills through the development of safety systems and implementation, critical incident investigation, behavioral-based safety training, auditing, risk management, and major hazard facilities.

Their list of services is a useful checklist of things you might elect to do on your mine to enhance you health and safety programs. This includes:

  • Site mobilization OHS programs and training
  • OHS management audits
  • Team-based risk assessments
  • Policy and procedure development
  • Critical accident investigations
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Behavior modification programs
  • Legislative compliance audits

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TRAINING

Mine Rescue training, Newmont I believe training is the most important component of a safe workplace. Repeated exposure to health and safety training materials and repeated exposure to the fundamentals of working safely is, I believe, necessary to stay alive and avoid damaging the equipment. This personal belief is founded on many hours in classrooms being trained in health and safety and knowing that I would have done the wrong, silly thing had I not been trained. For this reason I survey a few companies providing health and safety training and training products.

First let me refer you to a great website of the Australian Company Immersive Technologies. They also have a branch in the United States. I spent too long to be able to justify it wondering around their site which contains lots of information not only to interest the idle like me, but to help those charge with training at the mine. Here is how they describe what they are and what they do:

Immersive Technologies is committed to providing Equipment Simulator Training products that increase the safety and profitability of our customers. Established in 1993, Immersive Technologies is the leading global provider of operator training simulators to the Mining and Earth Moving Industries. Using real machine controls and precise - motion base systems, the Immersive Technologies Advanced Equipment AE Training Simulator provides a highly realistic learning environment. Available in either a semi- transportable or transportable configuration , the AE Training Simulator is a highly flexible tool for your training environment.

Also in Australia Corporate and Industrial Safety Services provides H&S training; I notice BHP Billiton is one of their clients.

The National Technical Information Service provides material for mine-related health and safety training.

Mine Compliance.com provides on-line training to meet MSHA and OSHA requirements.

In Canada the Occupational Safety Group provides training on Bill C-45 which is described thus:

Bill C-45 amends the Criminal Code to define who is responsible for the safety of persons in the workplace and to allow for prosecution under charges of "criminal negligence" when those responsibilities are recklessly or willfully disregarded. The amendment states: "Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task."

This clearly indicates that organizations can and will be held responsible for the actions of all of their employees, and for their lack of action. This includes directors, executive officers, operations managers, plant managers, production managers, and so on. These are the people with authority to make decisions about day-to-day operations. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, an individual found guilty of a contravention may be fined up to a maximum of $25,000 and/or sentenced to up to one year in jail, per offence. The fine for a corporation can be up to $500,000. Fines under the criminal code in an indictable offense have no predetermined limit. The maximum sentence for an individual convicted of "criminal negligence causing death" is life imprisonment.

Paul Stevenson is President of Occupational First Aid and a Red Cross First Aid Instructor at Trauma Tech.

These two folk from Thompson Nicola Training are located in Kamloops, Canada but will provide health & safety training wherever you need them: Elaine Wolfson who has taught Occupational Health and Safety First Aid for over 25 years and with a practical background in Mining and Sawmill Construction has first hand knowledge of the training requirements of companies and individuals. Ralph Smith who has over 15 years instructional experience in First Aid and related programs and with a background in manufacturing and financial institutions can provide Human Resources and Occupational Health training.

WorldWideLearn offers courses in occupational health and safety.

Occupational Safety & Health Consultants provides expert witnesses and training course in health and safety much of it applicable to mines.

The Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia offers courses and workshops in filed safety awareness.

The Canadian Diamond Drilling Association safety and training committee prepared guidelines for the Surface Diamond Driller Training Program. Training requirements are listed by function.


LOSS CONTROL MANAGEMENT

The project manager made all employees and consultants (including myself) complete a self-study course in Loss Control Management. There were no fatalities on this project and minimal accidents. But control of quality and health and safety were strict. I had to remove from site an employee when the scraper operators complained that he was not paying attention to their passage over the fill. A fellow engineer was banned from site for not wearing his safety belt. A competing consultant's employee was removed from site for not using his harness when he went on a roof to do repair work.

I still have the book "Loss Control Management Practical Loss Control Leadership" on my desk and recommend it to whoever I can. By way of background: the book is but one of the products of DET NORSKE VERITAS a company founded in 1864 as an independent foundation dedicated to safeguarding life, property and the environment. According to information on their website, DNV has over 4,000 employees operating in more than 100 countries working in partnership with many of the world's most successful companies.

In Canada DNV is associated with BURNELL & ASSOCIATES INC., a safety/loss control management consultants who since 1985 have been an independent distributor of safety, environmental and quality products and services for DNV.

The only mine that I could find that has used DNV's approaches is New Boliden who state on their website that they are a leading mining and smelting company with operations in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Ireland. Boliden's main products are copper, zinc, lead, gold and silver. The number of employees is approximately 4 500 and the turnover amounts to approximately EUR 2 billion annually.

The International Safety Rating System, ISRS, was first introduced at Boliden Tara Mines Limited in 2000 by Det Norske Veritas, DNV. The ISRS is a Management System for Safety and Loss Control. Now the mine has an established Loss Control Management System. The mine reports major improvements in lost time accident frequencies and advances in developing risk assessments.


SAGO MINE DISASTER REPORT

A long and detailed report on the Sago Mine Disaster: at this link is the 101-page preliminary report to Governor Joe Manchin III written by J. Davitt McAteer and dated July 2006.

I quote from the cover letter: " This is a preliminary report primarily because we do not yet have all the answers about the disaster's proximate cause. But in your initial charge to me you directed that if, during the course of the investigation, we were able to reach conclusions about improvements to mine safety and health which could be implemented along the way, we should make these conclusions available. We are doing so in this report, which includes numerous recommendations to improve mine safety and mine rescue. We offer these recommendations in full awareness that more remains to be done. But that should not be a rationale for delay. There are significant technologies and equipment available today that could be making our coal mines significantly safer tomorrow-for example by improving communication and the ability to locate miners, and, when escape is not possible, improving miners' chances of surviving an explosion or fire by providing refuge chambers."


COAL MINE DEATHS

From the Charleston Gazette:

Twenty-four West Virginia coal miners died on the job in 2006, the most in any single year for a quarter-century, according to state records.

Nationwide, 47 coal miners were killed, the largest annual death toll since 1995, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

As families and mine safety advocates marked Tuesdays anniversary of the Sago Mine disaster, federal and state officials promised more reforms to reverse last years deadly results.

In West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin has promised more steps to build on legislation passed after Sago and the deaths of two miners in a fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine.

Its been a horrible, horrific year, Manchin said in an interview two weeks ago. No one should go through this if we can prevent it, and thats what were trying to do.

Manchins legislative agenda for 2007 will be announced in a week, during the governors annual State of the State address on Jan. 10. That same day, the administration will unveil its proposals for next years budget, including any enhancements for the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training.

In Washington, congressional Democrats are promising more hearings on the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administrations performance now that their party is in the majority.

In the new Congress, we will conduct thorough oversight on the state of worker safety in Americas coal and noncoal mines, said Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat who will chair the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said that passage last year of the MINER Act is just one marker on the long route to undoing years of neglectful and industry-slanted policies at MSHA.

In a prepared statement, Rahall also called on MSHA to take tougher steps to protect coal miners from lightning-induced explosions underground.

Lightning has been fingered as the chief suspect in the Sago disaster, yet we still lack so many answers about how it entered the mine, Rahall said. As long as that question remains unresolved, the lessons of Sago are incomplete. MSHA has an obligation to continue to assess the threat of lightning to underground mines and to issue guidance to prevent future lightning-induced tragedies.

Twelve miners died in the Sago disaster, and two weeks later two more West Virginia miners died in a fire at Masseys Aracoma Mine.

Overall, the 24 miners who died in West Virginia in 2006 was the most in any year since 1981, when 28 miners died, according to the states count.

Twenty-one of those deaths occurred in underground mines, one at a surface mine and two at aboveground mine-related facilities.

Of the underground deaths, three were in falls of mine roofs or walls and three involved coal-haulage equipment.

West Virginia led the nation in coal-mining deaths, followed by Kentucky, where 16 miners died. Five of the Kentucky deaths came in the May 20 explosion at the Darby Mine. Alabama reported two coal deaths. Arizona, Maryland, Montana, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia each reported one.

MSHA has so far declined to include one of West Virginias deaths the drowning of a security guard in a mine pond in its nationwide count.

Across the country, deaths in noncoal mines were actually down in 2006. MSHA counted 25 such deaths, down from 35 in 2005.

The total deaths in all mining sectors 72 was the highest since 2001, when 72 also died, according to MSHA.

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MINE ACCIDENTS

This is why accidents happen on mines and people die: ten silly little things happen; each is trivial and insignificant in and of itself; but they all align in just the right way; and then there are one, two, three, and four people dead. The blame lies with every one of the ten people who let each of the ten silly little things happen, even though each of them is as innocent of ill intent as new snow. And not one of them is guilty of classic negligence.

This is a puerile statement of the profound thesis that incident control eliminates fatal accidents. In short if you want a safe work place you must manage trivial incidents in a no-fault environment. We can all manage and eliminate trivial incidents. None of us can control the conjuncture of ten incidents and the horrible death of many.

This perspective is glaringly absent from a news report (at http://thetyee.ca/News/2007/01/15/Sullivan/) that I have just read on the death of four people last April at the Sullivan Mine in Kimberly, BC. In the report you have a Capilano College professor assigning the deaths to the design of a sump that filled a shed with oxygen-poor air. You have the official report coming to the profound conclusion that the conjuncture of circumstance that killed the four has never happened before, so that everybody is beyond reproach. Then we have a UBC professor (whom I know and like) saying it is all the fault of putting clay over some waste rock dump downdrains. To all of this, one can only reply: FIDDLE-STICKS.

I am no expert on the accident, I have not seen the site, and I can barely read the scribbles that constitute the official accident report (available if you have patience to wait for it to download at http://www.mediaroom.gov.bc.ca/Sullivan_Mine/Attachment_A-Teck_Cominco.pdf .) So in due modesty I should have no opinion. But that is not my want or wit, so here goes. Stand by and if you do not like what I write and conclude, comment below and prove me wrong. Please, however, do not depose me as an expert, for I am not an expert.

Seems the ten things that went wrong include:

  • A questionable sump design
  • Absence of air quality inspection before entering a confined space
  • No buddy system in place or operative
  • Failure to observe access protocols by the mine
  • Failure to observe access protocol by the first consultant to die (did he or his company have a valid Health and Safety Plan for this activity?)
  • Untrained mine workers poking around the shed (dead as a result)
  • Untrained rescue workers (who themselves got killeddamn we were taught to avoid that error twenty years ago in Health and Safety classes.)
  • Unexpected consequence from common-old-garden covering of downdrains as part of dump covering
  • Management failure to enforce safety regulations
  • Unexpected buildup of foul air in a shed.

Of course there are probably additional trivial incidents that contributed to this tragedy. But the list above makes my point. If just one of the trivial incidents had been prevented, people would be alive today.

Not the least of the tragedy is the continued obfustication by all. I do not understand BC's inquest process, so I do not presume to predict the thoroughness of its investigations, but you know it will not be smooth sailing when the most entertaining spectacle is university professors dueling in public. This is not the way it should be. The inquest should be thorough, public, well documented, and should place blame where blame belongs, which in this instance sadly appears to be almost everywhere.

Meanwhile I cannot help but wonder if the families of those killed have retained lawyers. Serves us all right if they have to in order to get to the truth and to get recompensed. This story reminds me of a picture book from my early boyhood. It was a series of colorful pictures of ten kids running free and happy; then they stopped to play around a palm tree; they joined hands and circled the tree; faster and faster they went in the increasing heat; and hotter and hotter the day became; and soon enough they all melted to a pool of pure yellow butter; and the tiger came and slurped up the butter and went away with a smile on his face. You draw the parallels if you will, or post a comment below.


SAFETY AT A CANADIAN MINE

Here are some good reasons to purchase a diamond that is mined in Canada in preference to anywhere else in the world. I write this opinion on the basis of personal observations made during a recent visit to a Canadian diamond mine in the splendid isolation of the fading summer sun and advancing mists of a northern fall. Two ways this mine impressed me and convinced meit is good to buy Canadian diamonds in preference to diamonds from those other places of dubious repute.

First the folk on the mine are almost thirty percent local. True they fly in from remote communities none closer than a hundred miles from the site, places like Quebec, Calgary, BC, and Yellowknife. Which makes you wonder about the meaning of the term local.

Second, the mine is the most health and safety conscious I have ever been on. A few personal stories to substantiate this conclusion:

Walking around the food lines selecting from the bountiful diversity of dishes, I felt a tap on the shoulder. Your shoe laces are untied, the stranger admonished me. You could trip and fall. He is correct. I read somewhere that slip & trip is the most common accident in domestic and office settings. I tied my shoe laces up immediately. I hope next time I go that they have not banned lace-up shoe and demanded Velcro straps; my grandkids in Iowa are not allowed to wear lace-up shoes to school, so maybe the practice will spread to mines.

As I walked down the stairs to an outside door (never exit through the roll-up doors), my client-contact asked: Got your steel-toes, your hard hat, your gloves, your safety glasses. Remember your safety is my goal. This was done so calmly that you had to appreciate the seamless integrity and pervasive application of the safety system.

We were driven to the field. There is no wildcap self-driving at this site. If you want to go somewhere outside the plant, you book a cab ride with the contractors engaged to drive people around. They honk their horns before starting the engine, before backing up, and before entering a parking spot. They radio the truck ahead before overtakinga hand signal to overtake is not sufficientthere must be verbal contact.

We stopped at the tailings impoundment intending to walk out on a dike. But the mere sight of bear tracks in the beach sands, aroused such action that we scurried back into the truck and sought another way to do it - drive to a high ridge and espy through glasses.

Back for lunch and wonder at the notice above the trays of cookies: Due to concern about peanut cross-contamination, we no longer provide tongs. Please use the grease sheets provided. So I had two peanut-butter cookies held in grease-sheets.

I settled comfortably into the plane for the flight back to town. I dove deep into a new book on the problems of finding missing dark matter and dark energy inthe universe (seems we dont know where most of it is.) Utterly engrossed in the problems of the universe, I did not notice the start of the routine announcements about seatbelts and the like. Until a polite young local tapped me on the leg and said: We really should listen to the safety announcements. So I did. And I realized it had been a long time since I last listened to them. It was a rather novel experience thinking about them fresh and new.


EQUIPMENT

Infomine's Buyer's Guide lists over 200 suppliers of mine safety equipment. This provides an opportunity to answer a question I was asked one day: the question was, "If you mention a supplier in your technology review, doesn't that compromise your integrity?" And the answer is: I write what I think.

My opinion is based only on my investigations and evaluations. What I write is subjective; I make no pretense of objectivity. Nevertheless, I hope you come to enjoy and benefit from my opinion. If you disagree, please email me so that in the end we all come to respect each other's opinions.

Faced with over 200 suppliers, how do you decide where to go?

  • First, country - no point in visiting the Australian web site if you are in Argentina.
  • Second, type of equipment - no point in examining web sites on fire protection equipment if you need a safety harness for electric power line work.
  • Third, and this is almost corny, the name of the company. I could not resist going to Biomarine, thinking of my daughter and her unfinished 28-ft long sail boat and the visits to stores of similar name to buy paint and wood formulated for the rich and the marine environment. At their site I found this about the company: Neutronics' Biomarine Inc. is the market leader in the development and production of state-of-the-art rebreathers - closed circuit, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Our Bio-Pack rebreathers are designed to protect first responders, law enforcement, military, fire service and mine rescue personnel in hazardous, toxic, or oxygen-deficient environments.

How about the generic sounding Envirowest, which is an Australian supplier of flexible sign posts that presumably mitigate the potentially negative effect of hitting a post.

There is Gutz Incident Management Solutions which provides these among other products:

  • Incident Management System Interface (IMSI): a powerful software tool for the development, implementation, training, management, and revision of an Incident Management System.
  • Cardiac Arrest Response System (CARS): an interactive interface to aid implementation, training, and management for the use of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs).
  • GUTZ Oracle: an interface to query a diverse (and divine ;) group of experts and specialists.

At this point, I decided to do what most Americans do, and that is go by brand names. So I went to 3M and there, on an easy-to-navigate web site, I found every type of safety equipment I have ever used or can imagine ever wanting.


JOBS

Preshift inspection Most mines have a health and safety officer. Here is a description of what you are required to do on a day-to-day basis:
  • Develop, implement and assess industrial hygiene and safety program
  • Direct, develop, and monitor occupational health and safety practices for the site
  • Report unsafe/unhealthy conditions and makes recommendations to appropriate site management for correction
  • Evaluate and contract with vendors for the provision of services and equipment
  • Provide guidance and counsel to the site management team on applicable programs, practices, and existing/proposed local, state and federal regulations
  • Contribute to site strategic planning efforts for health and safety systems and issues
  • Oversee or investigate and maintain records of accidents as required by law
  • Ensure that all training mandated by MHSA, and other agencies is provided and updated as appropriate
  • Develop safety and management training programs that address needs of the site
  • Serve as primary contact with MHSA, and other regulatory agencies
  • Represent the site on company-sponsored steering teams
  • Evaluate all operation contracts and capital purchases to ensure safety requirements are included prior to contract or purchase approval.

Here is a description of the requirements for an Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator:

  • Ensure adherence to the Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S Policies, Management Standards, Standard Operation Procedures (SOP), and compliance with government regulatory requirements and guidelines (work permit conditions) with all activities at the project site and associated work areas
  • Educate / train employees and contractors including camp personnel in our clients OH&S Policy, Management Standards, SOP's, and government regulatory requirements, if and when necessary
  • Train camp personnel in various safety procedures (camp evacuation, fire extinguishers, etc.)
  • Establish on-site Occupational Health and Safety Committee and manage required duties
  • Schedule and conduct regular on-site project safety meetings
  • Plan and conduct emergency response exercises (Fire, Serious Accident, Missing Person, etc.), in association with the Site Manager, to ensure their effectiveness
  • Audit all work activities/areas and monitor work habits for compliance with our client's Policy, Standards, SOP's and Guidelines.
  • Inspect and audit all equipment and facilities as required (pre-start up, etc.)
  • Organize, maintain, and post/distribute all safety meeting minutes, required safety registers, safety actions, audit and inspection documents, government approvals and notifications
  • Conduct camp inductions for new arrivals (visitors, contractors, or company personnel)
  • Encourage, complete and follow-up on incident reporting (near miss, hazards/incidents, significant incidents) with assistance from the site manager
  • Participate in Incident Cause Analysis Method (ICAM) investigations with the site manager.
  • Community Relations liaison, with the assistance of site / project managers (attend community meetings, respond to complaints and/or inquiries)
  • Manage all other on-site OH&S issues, and provide other on-site assistance in the daily operation of the camp, as and when required, as requested by the site manager
  • Ensure a safe, healthy and clean work environment
  • Evaluate all safety practices, procedures and programs and make recommendations for improvement

HEALTH RISK ASSESSMENTS

The International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) has put out a new publication called Good Practice Guidance on Occupational Health Risk Assessment.

It describes 13 key steps for carrying out a Health Risk Assessment, from identifying the health hazards and their effects, to assessing exposure levels and analysing the effectiveness of existing control measures. It offers information on three types of assessments and includes several check lists and step-by-step guides to aid managers in the design and implementation of health risk assessments.

This publication made me recall an incident a while back when my boss and my client decided to climb into a tiny metal-hull boat and putt-putt from the shore out into the pond of the tailings impoundment. It was mid-summer, but the sky was gray, the wind was sharp, and intermittent gusts of cold rain fell. I was cold. That was not the least of it: the client's man charged with starting the outboard motor was having no success. Reinforcement troops were called in to conclude that the motor was defunct. No success getting its replacement started either - something to do with the fuel tank lines.

I looked at the choppy waves, the two decrepit oars, the desperation of the boat man, and decided this was unsafe. I have long been trained in the mantra that if you believe it is unsafe you must not do it. Rather find another way. True we had in accordance with company policy done one of those mini hazard assessment things, but it just did not feel right.

I confess I was in two minds: how do you tell your boss and client they are doing something you consider unsafe? Ordinarily I am ornery, but there are times when discretion is advised. I dithered and dallied. The engine sputtered. The waves splattered. Finally I took courage and said: "I decline. I advise that my old belly tells me this is unsafe. Your decision to continue alone."

To their credit, they did not blanch; being cold themselves they could not raise the heat to be roused. I went back to camp. They waited twenty minutes more and went out. I am told the motor shut off at the farthest distance out and they had to row back with those old oars. They looked beat when they got back to camp. I had no sympathy for them: it was their choice and I still think they were foolish.

Maybe I will e-mail them the link to the ICMM volume.


SME HEALTH & SAFETY PAPERS

Do technical papers from the March 2006 SME Meeting in St Louis represent the state of the art in mining health & safety? I hope not. Here for you to decide is a summary of the papers that appear on the $50 CD of proceedings.

  • Using Principles of Inherent Safety in the Design of Hydrometallurgical Solvent Extraction Plants by L.J. Moore. This paper, in my opinion, is worth reading regardless of your role in promoting mine safety. It gets my five-star rating. Inherent Safety is a protection layer that relies on reduction or elimination of hazardous materials or process through changes in the chemistry, physics, and physical design of a process. The paper explores the application of the principles of Inherent Safety to chemical plants and mines. I cannot do the paper justice by summarizing it, so I plead with you to read it.


  • Small-Mine and Contractor Safety-Addressing a Continuing Problem. The paper presents considerable data that establish that the fatality rate in small mines is higher than in large mines and that the fatality rate for independent contractors working at mines is higher than for staff and employees. In small mines the rate is affected by an absence of dedicated safety officials, the absence of training of employees, and the multiple tasks that have to be undertaken by a single employee. Factors affecting the higher rate amongst independent contractors include the younger age of the contractors' staff, lack of experience, and the fact that they sometimes have to do the work in those parts of the mines described as having "inferior conditions". The authors, all from the University of Missouri-Rolla conclude, rather pessimistically, that small-mine and contractor safety as an issue persists, that no concerted or well-funded effort has been made to address the problem, and that it is time for Congress, MSHA, and the industry to step in and act. If this truly is the situation in the USA, then what hope for the miner in China-see the next paper summary.


  • Systematic Analysis on Safety of CoalMine in China-Cause and Solutions by M. A. Qianjie of the University of Science and Technology in Beijing. We must welcome any analysis of the problem of coal mine safety in China, so here I try to replicate the essence of a paper that is obviously sincere. Its translation into English demands patience and persistence; please forgive what at first blush may appear to be typographical errors on my part (see the title as a good example), and forgive me if I misinterpret the author's intent. To establish the nature of the problem I quote from the paper-the words though different from the standard convey the magnitude of the problem and, I believe, the author's perspective: "Industrial disasters in coalmines china are terrific and miserable. About 1.9 billion tons of coal are driven out of coalmines in china meanwhile thousands of lives are buried in coalmines." After a detailed analysis that reminds me of the masterful but apologetic analyses of the liberals in the Afrikaans' press during the worst years of Apartheid as they tried to plead against the power of the government for humane policies, the author of this paper concludes: "Solution for the safety problems include enhancement of the qualifications of the miner immediately; endowing the working people with the potency to influence decisions on safety issues in absolutely necessary; putting the legal system on an ultimately position to ensure its roles in preventing collusions of corrupt government officials with coalmine owners can greatly enhance the working conditions of miners. But perhaps these measures need the approval of the government authorities and the administrative systems are difficult to admit." The ultimate picture is sad: inept government, corrupt officials, greedy owners, untrained workers, academics who must trip around the truth, and a system that ultimately has no real respect for human life.


  • U.S. Coal Mine Fatalities Versus Age of Mine by Dorset and Heasley. In a brief paper the authors from the Universities of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, establish that the greatest number of accidents occur in the second and eighteenth year of a coal mine's life. They speculate that the problem of ground control is the cause of the higher accident rate in the early years; they offer no explanation of why year 18 is a problem. (Who hasn't tried to keep 18 year olds safe?)


  • Assessing Rock Fall Hazards for Underground Stone Mines: A Proposed Methodology. This paper by four employees of NIOSH proposes a roof fall hazard assessment method for underground stone mines that can be used to manage miner exposure to unstable roof rock conditions so that roof fall related injuries can be reduced. An improved method is clearly needed: the paper notes that in 50 percent of the stone mines in the USA the condition of the roof is determined in a "limited and subjective manner" and that "Falls of ground comprised about 28 % of fatal injuries and 16% of the lost-workday injuries from 2000 to 2004".


  • Prevention of Frictional Ignitions by P.C. Thakur. Frictional ignition is the rapid oxidation of a mixture of methane and air with a visible flame. The 1566 frictional ignitions in US coal mines in the past twenty-two years have caused no fatalities, but have resulted in severe injuries. The paper details the ways to avoid frictional ignitions: degasification of coal seams prior to mining; wet cutting or water-jet assisted cutting; adequate ventilation; and machine design to minimize ignitions.

CHINA HEALTH & SAFETY PAPERS

Any act that improves mine safety and saves lives is to be supported and learnt from. So I spent time reading papers from the China Coal Information Network on Mine Safety. Let the authors speak for themselves via these quotes (I make very small edits to facilitate reading):

  • Zhang Heping. The "Three Represent's" theory raised by Mr. Jiang Zemin, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, has given a brilliant exposition on culture establishments. Mr. Jiang has pointed out that the Communist Party of China should all along represent the orientation of advanced culture. The safety culture of coal mine is an integral part of advanced culture and the ideological basis of safety work in coal mines. To strengthen the building of a safety culture in coal mine has significant strategic significance for guaranteed safe production and social stability.


  • Liu Taihua. The concept of safety culture was introduced from abroad into our country's nuclear industry in 1984In 1993, some experts and scholars begun to explore the problem of China safety culture in construction. China national first high class seminar on safety culture, sponsored by the Ministry of Labor and the China Labor Protection Science and Technology Association, was held in 1995. In the last decade, safety culture development, whether theoretically or actually application, has achieved gratifying success, and has brought safety culture into line with the state economy development plan.


  • Sun FengKai. The Safety Culture of the coal mine is a new concept. Exploring this concept, we must catch its core, which is the coal miners' safety. The safety is the whole thing, which in fact means life is the most important thing. Then the core of the Safety Culture of the coal mine is the life value, that is, calling on loving for life, cherishing life, protecting life and showing respect to life and improving life quality.


  • Shi Wenliang Zhan Baoshan. People are the decisive factor for the safety in production. With the protection of the staff and mines' health and safety taken as both the starting point and the ending point, the leaders of the Group pay much attention to safe operation procedures, improving self-control, cultivating science and technology quality, and enhancing safe productive capacity as the strategic point to provide spiritual and intellectual support to promote production.


  • Dr. David Creedy. A responsible employer will recognize the moral, legal, and financial necessity of ensuring the safety of employees. The benefits to a company of improved safety can be substantial and include: fewer working days lost due to accidents; increased profit; more secure and motivated workforce; and better image to pubic and customers. A safer workplace can be achieved by a combination of: suitable technology to do the job; compliance with all relevant laws, regulations, and official guidance; regular inspection by the statutory body, management, safety professionals, and workers representatives; firm enforcement of rules by management and laws by the regulatory authority; training for safe work; and responsibility - a safety culture.

MINE SAFETY QUIZ

From the Michigan Mine Safety & Health Training group comes a superb website that, I suspect, should be part of the arsenal of every mines health and safety officer.

The site consists of over 45 quizzes on every part of a mines operation. I tried and failed the quiz on the safety aspects of mine haul roads. But I still urge anybody who designs, builds, or uses mine haul roads to take the quiz and study the answers to the questions you answer incorrectly. I bet somebodys limbs and/or life will be saved somewhere if we all do this.

Every mine health and safety officer will find a different and innovative use for the material on this site. But please take a look and use some of it. (I have no affiliation with this siteI make this plea based on how impressed I am by its utility.)

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