About this time two years ago, the world was watching and praying for a relatively large group of unfortunate miners (nicknamed “los 33”) who were involved in a cave-in deep in a mine in Chile and stuck there for what ended up being 69 long days.
Due to mine safety and health violations throughout the mine’s history, the men were left with no way out, barely any food or water but for some meager emergency rations, and no way to communicate with the surface. After 17 days, after drilling six different exploratory bore holes, rescuers reached the trapped men, and there began the race to provide them with provisions and eventual extraction from the mine.
Takes A Lickin’
Everyone was surprised that the men were all alive after that relatively long amount of time in the depths of the mine, but they had had the forethought to have emergency food and water stored in a shelter that became their refuge. In a sense, they were very lucky, in that none of them were seriously hurt, their group was very organized and disciplined to deal with the hardship, and that the rescuers had access to some relatively accurate mine maps.
What Did We Learn From The Past?
In order to prevent this kind of accident in the United States, and to stay in compliance with the MSHA (Mining Safety and Health Administration, part of the U.S. Dept. of Labor), it is a good idea to make sure workers and contractors in mines are properly prepared to deal with potentially hazardous situations within your company’s mining sites.
Explanation of MSHA Regulations
If you want, feel free to check out the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, but I broke it down for you. In order to comply with MSHA regulations, mining operations are required, by law, to provide its employees with the following:
- A required amount of safety training.
- Ability to offer complaints or concerns to MSHA without fear of termination or punishment by their employer.
- Knowledge of compliance for respirable dust at the site, with samples taken at regular intervals.
- Proper ventilation, dust collection, or other air purifying equipment.
- Roof repair and fortification of mining site.
- Adequate and accurate signage to warn of potential hazards, gases, liquids, or other obstacles or dangerous work environments.
- Regular inspection of equipment and subsequent repair or replacement of damaged or malfunctioning machinery.
- Regular inspection of air quality and for noxious gases, including methane. Increased ventilation needed in areas deficient in required oxygen levels or in areas with elevated levels of hazardous or flammable gases.
- Daily, recorded logs of mine conditions by supervisors.
- Working and safe electrical power and those items powered by electricity must be kept in good order, and also must be deenergized before working on them, thus reducing chances of arc flash.
- All mines need to have sufficient firefighting equipment and personnel trained to use it. Sprinklers and/or foam generators need to be installed.
- Accurate maps of the mine need to be provided to miners and for personnel and potential rescue crews on the surface.
- Elevator and hoists are expected to have several speeds and the ability to brake at any point in its ascent or descent.
- Communications devices (phones, two-way radios, etc.) throughout the mine are expected to be provided and kept in good working order.
- Miners are expected to wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where applicable. This may include: safety eye and ear protection, hard hat, respirators, protective clothing, fall arrest harnesses, knee pads, elbow protection, gloves, steel-toed leather boots, anti-slip footwear, and visible safety apparel.
One final thought – although this isn’t necessarily a MSHA mandated regulation, I think the Chile accident offers some more lessons of preparedness for miners. The idea of having emergency rations for miners is a start. It might be advisable to make up survival kits per employee, which could include spoil-resistant food (like trail mix, energy bars, and other easily opened food packages ), glow sticks, headlamps, water bottles, water purification tablets, emergency respirator, two-way radio, flare, mini shovel, first aid kit, and playing cards. These kits could be something the miners keep near them, in the event of a collapsed mining tunnel, or stored at an emergency shelter near their work site.
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