The new legislation has been created to simplify a previously complex set of regulations, to make it easier for mine operators to achieve the highest standards of workplace safety and ensure the health and wellbeing of those working in their mines.
What has changed?
In addition to streamlining previous mining law, the new regulations are now less prescriptive, being based more on risk assessments carried out for a site to achieve set safety goals, rather than specifying particular measures. Under the legislation, the principal duty holder is now the mine operator, not the manager. Operators are required to assess the safety hazards in their mine and use this to devise a suitable system to minimise the risk to employees and visitors. Despite these changes, the legislation still stipulates a workmen’s inspector for each mine to liaise with workers and ensure they are satisfied with the safety measures in place.
One of the key areas where the Mines Regulations 2014 differ from previous legislation is in the air quality requirements, particularly for stone mines. Incorporating recommendations from a number of previous regulations, such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH), the law stipulates that mine operators take steps to optimise the ventilation systems in the underground sections of their facilities to protect employees’ health, safety and wellbeing.
Which air quality risks should mine operators look out for?
Regardless of the material being extracted from the mine, it is important to have in place stringent ventilation measures. Given the depth of the tunnels and caverns, it can be difficult for fresh air from the surface to circulate naturally.
The Mines Regulations 2014 incorporates the requirements of the Inhalable Dust Regulations 2007, and specifically makes reference to dust as a health and safety hazard. In section 218 of Regulation 43: Ventilation, the legislation identifies dust as one of the key risks that mine operators have a duty to manage through the use of adequate ventilation at the mine head and throughout the mine itself.
In consideration of the health risks of high temperatures, the Mines Regulations 2014 stipulates that mine operators ensure they have systems in place to help maintain a comfortable and safe working environment. Regulation 43: Ventilation does not state a specific maximum air temperature for stone, or any other, mines, but does recommend that mine operators do all they can to maintain an underground temperature that is “reasonable” for the nature of the work being carried out.
Under the Mine Regulations 2014, mine operators have a duty to take steps to minimise concentrations of diesel and other motor emissions from the areas of the mine frequented by workers. Again, the legislation does not specify a maximum concentration of diesel fumes, but advises that mine operators take appropriate measures, including ventilation, to ensure oxygen levels underground do not drop below 19 per cent by volume.
Flammable or explosive vapours
The Mine Regulations 2014 also require mine operators to assess and mitigate the risk of flammable or explosive vapours in their mine, whatever the material being extracting. While the risk posed by gases, such as methane, in stone mines is far lower than that of coal mines, operators nevertheless need to identify the risk to the site and employees, and take steps to minimise the build-up of such materials.
Radioactive minerals do occur in the Earth’s crust, and natural gases, such as radon, can build up in enclosed spaces, leading to long-term health issues related to low-level radiation exposure. Geological surveys and radiation readings should be carried out on site to identify any potential radiation risk, so that steps can be taken to manage the hazard.
Humidity in the atmosphere should also be taken into account in the mine. Not only can airborne moisture lead to rusting and premature degrading of heavy machinery and other mechanical equipment, it can also have repercussions for human health too. For example, it can exacerbate the effects of hot air, increasing the risk of heat stroke underground, and can also help create the ideal conditions for mould to thrive, the spores of which can lead to respiratory issues for workers.
What is the key to effective ventilation?
Mine operators can take a number of measures, from maintaining machinery to minimise emissions, to providing workers with personal protective equipment. Nevertheless, to comply with the Mine Regulations 2014, they have to ensure that there is a suitable ventilation system below ground to effectively manage the air quality risk.
However, it offers considerable flexibility with regards to how this can be achieved, advising that the type of ventilation used will depend on the type of mine and the potential hazards present, as well as the extent to which each part of the mine needs ventilating. It also recommends that no fan or similar equipment be installed anywhere in the mine unless a survey of the likely effects of the fan on the passage of air has first been carried out, and a report created detailing the solution’s size, type and its proposed location.
How can SOCOTEC help?
To meet the requirements of the new legislation, and optimise safety for workers, mine operators need to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment of every part of their mine. This can be undertaken with ESG’s air quality experts, who can provide support in identifying any safety issues and help operators determine what risks need to be addressed to safeguard the wellbeing of workers.
From the risk assessment, our experts can build a three-dimensional computer model of the natural movement of air inside the mine. This can then be used to design an effective ventilation system for the site to ensure the optimum movement of air to minimise the concentration of fumes and other hazardous materials. This 3D model is also crucial to help mine operators devise a suitable escape route for workers in the event of a fire.
Carrying out these measures, and working with the support of our air quality experts, mine operators can ensure that the environment on their premises is the best it can be for workers on the site.
For further advice or for more information about SOCOTEC’s ventilation services, please contact us.