Mining health and safety tips

I never, well hardly ever, post the writings of others on this blog. Except when I quote whole scale from a report I like.

Some time ago, I received this email:

My name is Megan and I have been researching mining medicine for years. I am especially interested into lung and skin diseases that can be developed as a consequence of long-term exposure to mining environment. This issue is primarily present in places with mining surrounding and it is not only environmental issue, but rather a health problem. One of the best known health issues related to mines is Pneumoconiosis which can be developed by inhaling mine dust. I was just wondering if you would be interested to publish a guest post regarding this topic. In my article I can discuss the current findings of my research and propose how the certain health syndromes could be avoided. If you are interested, please let me know and I will start writing an article for you.

I asked her to send me something. She did, and here it is. I post this on the basis that I am not knowledgeable in any of the things she writes about; but maybe what she says will help somebody, somewhere stay healthy. To me that is purpose & reason enough.

Every workplace has occupational risks attached to it, but some more so than others. The mining environment in particular poses much higher risks to its workers than just spilt coffee and dodgy floorboards.  The health risks of working in a mining environment are varied, ranging from dust inhalation through to falls and musculoskeletal disorders.  Understanding and being aware of your environment is the first step to preventing illness or injury in the workplace. Here is an outline of just some of the more common health risks to look out for if you are working in a mining environment.

Coal dust:  One of the most common causes of concern when working in a mine is dust inhalation, and more specifically, coal dust. The ongoing inhalation of coal dust can cause what is colloquially known as ‘miner’s lung’ or ‘black lung’.   Miner’s lung is a form of the occupational lung disease group pneumoconiosis. It varies in severity, but symptoms include shortness of breath and scarring of lung tissue, which can cause ongoing respiratory issues.

Noise:   Mines are noisy places to work. There is constant drilling and heavy machinery roaming around, so naturally your ears are potentially going to suffer. It can be easy for you to mentally get used to loud noises, but that doesn’t mean that damage isn’t still being done. Many people don’t notice the damage to their hearing until long after they were first exposed to the noisy environment, as most damage occurs very slowly.   Over-exposure to excessive noise can result in tinnitus (ringing in the ears), sleep disturbances, concentration problems and even permanent hearing loss.

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. In the mining environment, WBV can be caused either by spending a lot of time sitting on machinery, which is most of the time in mining extraction, or by standing e.g. working on jumbo operators.   Some forms of vibration are ok, but they become dangerous when they involve uneven surfaces, vehicle activity such as ripping versus pushing material in a bulldozer, and engine vibrations. Symptoms of WBV include musculoskeletal disorders, reproductive damage in females, vision impairment, digestive problems and cardiovascular changes.

UV Exposure:   By now, most people have had the dangers of UV exposure drilled into them. Over exposure can put you at risk of skin cancer, of which Australia has the highest rate in the world.   Not only can UV rays cause melanomas to form, but they can cause serious damage to your eyes if you are not wearing protective eye wear.  In the short-term, overexposure to the sun can cause dehydration, headaches and nausea.    Mine workers often spend whole days out in the baking hot sun, so are naturally at a very high risk of developing cancer and eye problems if they are not adequately protected.

Musculoskeletal disorders:    Musculoskeletal disorders 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.

Thermal stress:  A common health risk that miners face is thermal – or heat – stress.  Mining environments are often very hot and humid, particularly those in outback Australia, which over time can cause thermal 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.

Chemical hazards:   When working in a mine it is likely you will be exposed to harmful chemicals. As an example, the most common group of chemicals that cause concern in a coal mining environment are polymeric chemicals.   Regardless of the chemicals you work in close proximity to, appropriate safety wear and precautions need to be taken to minimise your body’s exposure to them. Risks include chemical burns, respiratory problems and poisoning.

Contact Megan at if you would like to discuss further with her.

This article originally appeared in full on I Think Mining.

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