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Exploration work has its share of hazards

March 1, 2010
by Adelle Larmour
In: Exploration with 0 Comments

Always have a plan in case of an emergency.

Gerald Allan, the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s (MOL) provincial mining specialist, mining health & safety program, urges workers in the exploration industry to take emergency preparedness seriously.

Currently, no legislation exists with respect to emergency plans for prospecting work, but Allan advises workers to know who to contact in case assistance is required. Workers should also know how to deal with an injury and have a plan so they can take an injured worker out safely.

“We’ve had workers pass away because the transportation was limited,” he said.

Section 25 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to take every precaution reasonable under the circumstances for the health and safety of workers.

“It is up to the employer to educate and train workers,” Allan said. The Mines and Aggregates Safety and Health Association sells a manual specifically for exploration companies and people in the prospecting industry called Exploration Safety: A Guide to a Safe & Healthy Workplace.

Workers in the exploration industry receive very few visits from MOL inspectors, unless there is a fatality, which is rare.

The relatively small number of workers in the exploration industry accounts for its low profile in health and safety. Allan said at its peak time in 2008, there were an estimated 6,000 workers in the field, but since the recession, those numbers have decreased significantly.

Also, work locations are often inaccessible to MOL’s field staff that travel by road.

Exploration is not a “fixed mining activity,” and scheduled work is often for short periods of time, making it difficult to nail down a time when a company will be in a certain location. However, diamond drillers have to notify local inspectors of their location and how long they plan to be there. Sometimes, a prospecting site may get a visit from an industrial inspector or a mining inspector.

Generally, Allan agreed that people in the exploration industry work safely, but he said the hazards are very real. Some of the more common risks are:

1.     Chicots, dead trees or dead treetops, sometimes called widow-makers in the logging industry. It is recommended that if one is felling a tree beside a chicot, take down the chicot first. Consider weather conditions like wind, snow, ice and shifting soil when working near chicots.

2.    Land travel. In 2002, a 28-year-old man was doing geophysical work on surface with his crew when he slipped on a rock, fell, hit his head and died, Allan said. Proper footwear and awareness of terrain is necessary. People going through the ice when traveling over frozen lakes has become more of a concern in the past several years.

3.    Vehicle use over rough roads and problems with brakes. Helmets should be worn when driving quads. Workers should be trained to operate specialized equipment.

4.    Use and storage of explosives. Workers using explosives should wear only natural fibers and avoid synthetic clothing, which can lead to static build-up. Avoid friction, never let the wires slide through your hands, do not put the detonators in your pocket and avoid handling them during electrical, severe dust or snowstorms. The storage of explosives is federally regulated and requires a licensed facility in which to store them. Explosives must never be abandoned in the bush. They must be stored in approved magazines (secured steel storage containers). Charges that are not recoverable must be exposed, reprimed and destroyed.

5.     Cold weather. Have adequate clothing, shelter and be in good physical condition if working in extreme temperatures for extended periods of time.

6.     Bear attacks. Many prospectors carry pepper spray, but they should be trained how and when to use it. Proper storage containers on flights are required so it doesn’t spontaneously trigger.

Allan said the majority of these risks have common sense solutions, but it is up to the employer to be educated about current health and safety issues and to train employees, particularly if there is a high turnover of workers.

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