A Summary of Labor Risks in Mining

Table of Contents

This article reviews the physical, chemical, biological, ergonomic and psychosocial risks associated with the mining industry sector, still very important in many parts of the world, and where there is still an important margin to reduce risks, especially of accidents, problems related to ergonomics, noise and control over carbon dust and silica.

This is a summary of those risks:

Physical Risks:

The traumatic injuries are the main problem and its range from trivial to fatal accidents (falling rocks, fires, explosions, floods, collapse and electrocution). The systematic application of risk management techniques in developed countries has contributed to a substantial reduction in the frequency of this type of accident, although important improvements are necessary to reach tolerable limits at a general level. The noise, and subsequent deafness, has been so pervasive in mining. It is generated by drilling, dynamite, cutting of materials, ventilation equipment, crushers, transport chain of minerals and, finally, processing. Controlling noise has always been a very difficult task in this sector.

Heat & Humidity:

Is a major problem as describe since the air temperature increases with depth (mainly due to the geothermal gradient and higher barometric pressure)? Thus, in the deep gold mines of South Africa, heat strokes of fatal consequences have always been a major problem.

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The barometric pressure is high in deep mines (in these cases an increase in air temperature is generated and sweating is reduced, which generates heat shocks) and reduced in high altitude mines, especially in South America (in these cases a Intermittent chronic hypoxia induces physiological adaptations and generates acute benign symptoms of mountain sickness).

The vibration transmitted by pneumatic hammers is the cause or exacerbation of pre-existing vertebral disorders.

The sun exposure to ultraviolet radiation workers operating in surface mines contributes to the presence of squamous cell cancer and basal cell cancer.

Finally, exposure to radon in deep mines has increased the risk of lung cancer although, fortunately, thanks to the use of powerful ventilation equipment can be controlled.

Chemical Hazards:

The crystalline silica has long been a serious problem in mining because of the risk of silicosis involved. Prolonged exposure to this dust leads to an obstructive pattern (cough, expectoration, dyspnea), which subsequently evolves into pulmonary fibrosis with a severe restrictive pattern, in addition to an increase in rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease and risk of lung cancer.

The coal dust has been another serious problem of mine, causing pneumoconiosis or black lung, leading to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which later evolves with severe pulmonary fibrosis restrictive pattern.

The asbestos has caused immense legacy related diseases (pulmonary fibrosis, pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer).

In developed nations the risk to these mineral powders has been largely controlled by measures aimed at suppressing or reducing dust (use of drilling equipment with water projection on rocks, handling of closed cabins, adequate ventilation systems and, finally, , use of appropriate respiratory protection masks).

Exposure to diesel particles occurs in underground mines because of the equipment that is fed from it, especially in drilling and transportation equipment. Diesel particles are classified by the IARC in group 2A as probable human carcinogen, especially lung cancer.

Gases such as methane (risk of explosions), carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, still remain a serious problem that requires monitoring.

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