Dwayne Plamondon of Workplace Safety North believes there is a special bond among miners.
“It’s like a family underground,” he said.
And to help keep this family safe, for the past six weeks Ontario mining inspectors have been conducting safety blitzes and checking on two specific systems used to transfer ore inside underground mines.
The systems are the:
- “Ore pass” (vertical or inclined passage used for the downward transfer of ore)
- “Loading pocket” (chamber excavated in the rock at the base of an ore pass where rock is stored)
According to the Ministry of Labour these are the most hazardous of any ore transfer system.
The safety blitzes “are designed to raise awareness and increase compliance with health and safety legislation.”
While even a single dangerous incident is one too many, the fact is that Ontario’s mining safety record is good, says Jerry Wedzicha, an electrical-mechanical specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Labour in Sudbury.
“Underground, there’s a network of systems for moving materials from the rock face,” Wedzicha said. “Usually it’s sent to a loading pocket which is a vertical hole from one level to another and then there’s a gate which is opened to allow the material to fall by gravity to a conveyor which then takes it up and out and away (usually to the mill for processing).”
The ore pass is downward sloping passage where the blasted or extracted face material falls to the loading pocket, he said.
“(Both) can get jammed with material so sometimes they put a little water on it to loosen to flow,” he said. “But too much water and it all becomes loose and flows like liquid and you have an avalanche which is uncontrolled.”
This is called a “run-of-muck” incident and accounted for 10% of mine fatalities from 1970 to 2012 according to Ministry of Labour statistics.
One of the more recent “run-of-muck” incidents incurred in 2011.
It’s important for there to be good drainage in these two areas so that water doesn’t accumulate and cause an avalanche or run of muck. It’s also important for operators in the area controlling the gate at the loading pocket to not only protected from the material but also to have an escape path should things go wrong.
“Also if anyone is working in the bottom of the loading pocket, mucking out the debris and fine material, all work has to stop because you are putting them at risk,” he said.
“Things like signage are important and communication is also important,” said Plamondon of Workplace Safety. “At the start of every shift there should be a huddle with the supervisor and the workers to go over what is going on during their shift so they are aware and what happened in the last shift. They always start with a discussion around Health and Safety. There’s also a meeting at the end of the shift to report back so there next shift coming in knows of any issues.”
He said there are different protocols used by mines such SAFE:
“They all work if they are followed,” he said.