Work-related health and safety has always remained a cause for concern among industry experts, managers and workers. Many industries like energy, construction, fishing and farming report high incidence of casualties.
The potential hazards that miners face daily in their workplace are plenty. Many of these hazards have progressive consequences that are not realized until too late. The effects these dangers have on health are subtle and difficult to evaluate or measure. Risk and safety management principles aim to keep the levels of exposure to hazards low so that they do not affect the health of the workers adversely.
Proper safety measures involve assessment, recognition and control of all the threats and dangers workers are exposed to. The potential hazards include exposure to radiation and harmful gases, explosions, extreme temperatures, loud noise, cave-ins, transportation incidents, dangers involved in operating heavy machinery and fires.
If these dangers are not properly recognized and addressed, they result in injuries, diseases and fatalities. Personal Protective Equipment helps alleviate the dangers to a large extent, but they need to be used properly and be sufficient to meet the challenges. PPE ranks low in the hierarchy of controls for safety management, but is the last line of defense a worker has in a dangerous situation when all other controls fail.
Different Types of PPE
There is a huge range and variety of PPE catering to all the safety needs and demands of the industry. The type of PPE that is needed depends on the following factors.
- Site rules- There are metal mines, mines and quarries for industrial minerals, and quarries producing crushed rock. The on-site rules, regulations and safety procedures are different, so the PPE requirements are also different. Work-area specific rules should also be adhered to, which are different for the workshop and for on-field activities.
- On-job hazards- There are many real-time work-related threats and dangers to miners. The PPE should be chosen accordingly to address the hazards.
- Hazards identified in pre-job risk assessment- The choice of PPE should take into consideration potential or expected workplace dangers as well.
- Organizational practices and culture- The safety procedures and policies in companies determine the PPE, and other health and safety practices.
It is important that safety and compliance are made an integral and important part of organizational practices, and each and every incident, issue and aberration be reported immediately. This has to be drilled into every manager, supervisor and worker. The overall health and well-being of workers have to be monitored, including stress levels, sleep patterns and the lifestyle. Addictive drug abuse and binge-drinking are big no-no for mine workers. A single lapse or oversight can lead to mine accidents and fatalities. Most of the companies advise, and provide medical help and paid leaves to needy employees.
PPE is worn to minimize dangers from occupational hazards, injuries and illnesses. They are designed to protect a body part or sensory faculty. Based on this there are many types of PPE offering comprehensive safety and protection to miners from all dangers. Some of them are as follows.
The main causes of eye injury are splashing chemicals, flying objects and flawed machinery and equipment operations. A wrong choice and an improper fit of eyewear, as well as a lack of awareness about risks and protection, increase the chances of injury. Dust getting into the eyes, and intense light and radiation pose danger to the vision. Extreme heat emitting from various sources like furnaces also causes much harm to eyes. The PPE should be a good fit, provide proper visibility, and be appropriately stored and cared for.
Safety spectacles, goggles, visors, face shields and full face respirator are widely used PPE for eyes.
It is mandatory to provide regular training to update the workers on best safety and health practices. All PPE should be regularly inspected and ready for use. If workers are using more than one PPE at a time it is necessary the equipment supplement each other. There should be no discomfiture and the worker should not be tempted to discard one for the other. Reduced visibility is a common complaint against safety glasses which needs to be properly addressed.
The safety gear should have a good fit and be comfortable to use. Availability of proper first aid, eyewash facilities and access to emergency drench shower helps reduce danger to eyes from injurious, corrosive chemicals and other hazards.
Continuous exposure to loud noise can result in long-term damage to human hearing. Machinery and power tools generate loud noise, so do the vehicles and trains used in transportation. Vehicles generate extremely high levels of noise in underground mine shafts.
Ear plugs, ear muffs and canal caps provide protection to hearing from high decibel levels. Ear plugs are available in disposable foam cell variety or the reusable elastomeric variety.
The disadvantage of noise suppression is that the user is unaware of his surroundings and situation, and feels isolated. In order to solve this there are specialized ear plugs which progressively suppress high levels of hazardous noise and allow low levels of noise like speech to pass relatively unimpeded. Advanced and high-tech headsets and hearing protectors are also available for enhanced communication. Most earplugs require deep insertion into the ear canal for optimum protection which causes much discomfort. A low profile in the ear and comfort for prolonged wear and compatibility with other protective equipment determines the usability of ear plugs.
Respiratory protective equipment protects the wearer from inhalation of hazardous substances present in the in workplace air. Coal dust and other ambient dusts pose serious threat to the respiratory health of miners. The type and usage of respirators is determined scientifically by testing the level of contaminants in the air.
Respirators are of two types- air-purifying respirators (APRs) and supplied-air respirators (SARs).
Air-purifying respirators either filter out the harmful particles or absorb them into a canister or cartridge. Some widely used APRs are mouthbit respirator, quarter mask, half-face mask, and full-face mask or facepiece. Full face mask also provides protection to eyes from harmful vapors and dust. Supplied-air respirators supply clean air to the workers from a compressed tank or through an airline. Some types of SARs have self-contained air breathing apparatus (SCBA). They allow workers access to emergency source of air in case of disasters. Some SARs are protective body suits that contain a life-support system. Airline supplied air respirators are also widely used SARs.
Workers with beard, facial stubble, acne or facial scars cannot wear masks and respirators effectively because the facial skin will not be able to form a seal with the respirators. The respirators require thorough, regular and professional cleaning and checking. Most of these safety-enhancers hamper communication. The cartridges and canisters need to be checked regularly to prevent saturation and ‘breakthrough’ where contaminants enter back into the airline. The elaborate air supply system in advanced respirators makes them difficult to carry and mobility is affected. Also most of the respirators cannot be used in sterile environment. But despite these disadvantages, respirators are powerful last line of defense where other engineering controls fail.
Head protection includes hats, hoods, caps and helmets. Hard head gear provides safety from grievous injuries that can handicap a person or take his life. The broad rims in hats differentiate the hard hats from caps. These rims provide protection from dripping water in wet, underground mines. They also shield your face, scalp, neck and shoulders from splashing chemicals and dripping effluents.
There are side slots and facilities for mounting headlamps, hearing protection and face shields. Hard hats with foam lining are comfortable and a lot of PPE comes with lateral impact protection, and better retention with chin straps and ratchet suspensions.
Good PPE should also be resistant to penetration, provide shock absorption and be slow to catch fire. Some hard hats provide insulation from electrical shocks also.
Factors which determine the suitability of PPE for head protection are comfort, unrestricted vision and movement, durability, ease of cleaning and compatibility with other PPE.
When engineering and work practice controls are not sufficient to provide protection to hands or arms, workers need to use personal protective equipment. Gloves are commonly used to provide protection from extreme temperatures, chips, cuts and minor injuries, irritating and harmful chemicals, and enable handling wires and ropes. They also reduce slipping and provide better grip. If arm protection is required, long sleeves are attached to the gloves covering the arm. There are different types of gloves as given below.
- Gloves made of metal mesh, leather or canvas
- Chemical and liquid resistant gloves
- Insulating gloves
- Fabric gloves and coated fabric gloves
Gloves made of asbestos and asbestos lining are prohibited.
Wearing heavy and bulky gloves may impede mobility and functioning of workers. Some of the chemicals or materials used in the gloves may be irritating or uncomfortable for the workers. The palms can get wet and damp from sweat if the gloves are worn for prolonged periods of time. Despite the minor and occasional discomfort, gloves are most widely and commonly used in mining as well as other industries for safety and protection.
Foot and Leg Protection
The feet require special protective equipment to safeguard against injuries due to falling heavy objects, sharp objects piercing through the soles of ordinary shoes, slippery surfaces, hot or wet surfaces, and dangerous splashes and spills.
Some of the common foot and leg protection equipment are as follows.
- Leggings- they provide protection to the feet and lower legs from hot and molten metal and welding sparks.
- Metatarsal guards- they are attached to the outside of shoes, mainly the sole, to protect from impact and compression.
- Toe guards- they form a covering on the toes to protect them from being crushed or compressed. Toe guards are usually made of steel, aluminum or plastic
- Safety shoes- they have toe guards and heat resistant soles and offer protection from heat, injuries and other hazards, and provide a firm grip on slippery surfaces.
They may be uncomfortable and heavy and affect mobility adversely, but they provide vital safety and security to your feet. Regular checks and proper maintenance will help keep your safety footwear in good condition.
Personal protective equipment is not recommended as a safety measure. All possible organizational and engineering controls need to be in place to prevent workplace mishaps and dangers. PPE caters to individual safety. Companies need to focus on and work towards collective worker safety and security.
When engineering, work practice and administrative controls are not feasible or cannot ensure optimum safety and security of workers, PPE turns out to be the last option. Proper use by trained and alert workers helps reduce workplace accidents and fatalities considerably.
Krysten Jetson is a freelance writer specializing in the construction industry. She loves sharing her expertise on various aspects of the construction industry, especially safety like a fall protection, workers safety etc. She has many years of professional experience including working with clients to build their business and brand through internet marketing strategies.