21st Mining Safety Must Address Spill Risk And Spill Safety

When you hear the word “mining,” what do you think of?

Historically, mining was a very dangerous, dirty job, wherein miners would travel deep underground to physically remove minerals or other materials from the ground. Mining jobs were – and still are – localized to specific geographical regions, depending on the materials that a specific area held. For example, Pennsylvania has been known for centuries as a haven for coal mining, while Arizona continues to be prime territory for copper mining.

Many of us do not think about spill safety when we think about mining operations. In fact, mine collapses are usually a far more pressing safety matter for mines around the world..

However, while collapsing mines are a very real concern, they are only one part of mining safety today. This is because over the centuries, the technology and strategies we use to mine natural resources have both extensively evolved.

According to miningsafety.co.za, “Mining operations generate hazardous waste, transport and store petroleum products and other hazardous materials, and by law mining companies are required to prepare spill control and cleanup procedures and plans.”

This means that mining sites must by law go through the same preparation procedures that other sites that may face a fuel or chemical spill do. According to miningsafety.co.za, these basic preparation steps include the following:

  • Spill response and prevention controls clearly state measures to stop the source of a spill, contain the spill, clean up the spill, dispose of contaminated materials and train personnel to prevent and control future spills. Ensure that you know the requirements.
  • Spill prevention plans are most applicable to the whole site including construction areas where hazardous materials and wastes are stored or used.
  • The preliminary steps to prevent spills include:
    • Identifying potential spill source areas such as loading and unloading, storage, and processing areas; places that generate dust or particulates and areas designated for waste disposal and.
    • Evaluating stationary facilities that include manufacturing/processing areas, workshops, wash bays, warehouses, storage yards, fuel farms, parking areas and access roads.
  • Employees must be trained in spill control response procedures, post-spill response and know the emergency numbers.
  • Spill containment and cleanup kits should be located at spill- prone areas. The contents of the kit should be appropriate to the type and quantities of chemical or goods stored at the area.
  • Spill kits must be inspected and maintained in all activity areas.
  • Refuel equipment in a designated area to minimise contamination. Pay attention to location so that spills would not enter drainage systems (dry rivers and tributaries) or storm water. Consider barriers (bunds, concrete floors, berms etc) or other containment systems.
  • Most of all, address the root cause of the spill-causing problem (e.g replacing faulty valve, modification of equipment etc) rather than the symptoms (repairing faulty valve and using wrongly designed equipment).

 Needless to say, the similarities between this list and many other spill-safety lists are striking and universal, from preparing spillkits with very strong absorbent products to identifying the at-risk areas around the worksite.

So while spill safety may not be the first thing that comes to mind when addressing mine safety and health overall, its importance both now and into the future cannot be understated. Spills, after all, can affect both the environment and the health of the miners. That’s why it is our hope that as mining technology and safety laws continue to evolve, so will the spill risk assessments and procedures in place at mining sites.

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