What miners can learn from demining

What miners can learn from demining

Mining and demining – the removal of land mines for humanitarian or military reasons – both present greater-than-normal occupational risk. SHEQ MANAGEMENT looks at what it takes to protect deminers, and wonders if there are any lessons to be learnt

Miners are said to make up less than four percent of the South African workforce, but suffer an estimated 15 percent of all occupational fatalities, making equipment designed to enhance mine safety worth its weight in platinum.

The work of Herbert Heinrich, who studied 75 000 accident reports in the 1920s, concluded that 88 percent of accidents are caused by unsafe acts, 10 percent by unsafe conditions and two percent are unavoidable.

In the case of demining, the rates differ drastically – and surprisingly. Up to 25 percent of accidents are deemed unavoidable, and an extreme blast can kill a deminer wearing the best bomb-suit. The surprising fact? Demining accidents are rare. This is according to Andy Smith of AVS Mine Action Consultants, a member of a group advising the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining.

Smith maintained a database for five years and found that severely disabling accidents occur at the rate of one for each 30+ person-years of demining. He believes this to be a worst-case figure, and that accidents in most demining “theatres” are much rarer.

However rare they may be, explosive accidents can inflict severe injuries, and there is an obligation for employers to take all reasonable measures to reduce risk. This can be pursued “procedurally” by seeking to avoid accidents (through improvements in training, management and field supervision) and by seeking to reduce the severity of any injuries that do occur.

This is where personal protective equipment (PPE) comes in. The United Nations’ International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) specifies the PPE requirements for deminers. Because of the unpredictability of blast events, IMAS says it cannot be expected to protect workers all the time, and has a disclaimer to this effect, while “deminer accountability is taken” into account because workers are often unwilling to wear any protection they deem unnecessary.

IMAS specifies only two obligatory PPE requirements: frontal body protection and a long visor.

Blast armour is capable of providing protection against the blast effects of 240 g of Trinitrotoluene (TNT) at 30 cm, while quality blast armour also provides some fragmentation protection. Fragmentation armour was made optional since it was found to offer relatively ineffective protection against fragmentation mines. It’s more appropriate to manage fragmentation risks procedurally.

A visor is required to provide full frontal face and throat coverage, and must provide adequate protection against the blast effects of 240 g of TNT at 60 cm. Most visors designed to fit combat helmets are, however, short and provide no throat protection, and so don’t meet IMAS requirements. And because visors harden as a result of UV exposure, they require regular inspection and replacement.

Surprisingly, blast boots are considered the lowest IMAS requirement because they are uncomfortable and impractical, and an independent trial found that they are expensive, with unproven benefits.

Helmets should be worn if there is a 360° risk, and can be used to secure visors, although an open-head frame can be just as effective.

Those running demining operations often find it beneficial to spend more money on regularly replacing damaged visors and investing in quality protection for wearer’s hands and arms, as these areas are exposed and vulnerable.

The big take-out for the mining industry? Prevention of accidents is paramount, and “miner accountability” (meaning that the safety of the workers largely depends on the workers themselves) is critical. To this end, mining companies must ensure that PPE is appropriate and, importantly, comfortable.

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