Despite technology making hazardous environments much safer than they have historically been, there remains a serious risk of danger in some mining and industrial environments.
Large and cumbersome equipment, which needs to be operative and monitored 24/7, not to mention operatives working in confined spaces, possibly being exposed to hazardous chemicals or fumes, means management of these environments remains as challenging as ever.
On the other hand, more mobile equipment which can be easily moved around an environment, or even worn by operatives, is helping make headway in the battle for a safer work environment, but these bring entirely new challenges, with much of the equipment requiring constant wireless connections to work properly, plus needing to operate in some of the harshest environments around.
With so many challenges to safety, and the potential for catastrophic results if something goes wrong, managing sites and hazardous environments is as challenging as ever – so what can managers to do mitigate some of these risks?
Safety and the industrial environment
One of the biggest challenges to the modern mining environment is that many of the more severe health risks associated with the job are only just coming to light.
The more obvious risks – injury due to slips and trips or contact with equipment, or rock falls in mining – are well known and the general improvement of health and safety regulations along with the emergence of real time monitoring means much of these risks are being mitigating, or largely eliminated.
However, exposure to chemicals and hazardous materials – like silica dust – are only just being identified as health risks, and it is a serious risk with 4,000 people in the UK dying every year from exposure.
It is these kinds of longer term health risks which are now causing the biggest challenge to health and safety managers, and the severity of the risks means more needs to be done and new measures taken to limit risks to operatives.
Historically, one of the biggest hurdles to minimising particulate exposure risks, was that risk assessments were conducted manually, and only every few hours. Whatever workers were exposed to between these times was anyone’s guess or only became apparent when they showed symptoms of illness.
New fixed monitoring systems have been essential in the improvement of site management in mining.
Having equipment in place which can constantly monitor the environment and instantly alert workers to changes – like a sudden increase in particulates in the air – means operatives can quickly evacuate an area or ensure they are wearing protective gear when entering contaminated areas.
This kind of constant monitoring and early warning system is making the industrial environment much safer, but also raising confidence levels amongst workers, who can see for themselves what their surrounding environment is like – safe in the knowledge they will be quickly warned if something changes.
Moving to mobile
Of course, as effective as static equipment is, it remains difficult to move around some environments – particularly when an area becomes constricting – so mobile technology is needed to optimise safety.
Having wearable environment monitors provides the same level of monitoring and early warning as static equipment but allows a more efficient process, because it doesn’t have to be set up and deconstructed when moved.
This equipment, when connected to a centralised monitoring station, means operatives know what the risks of exposure are in areas and can remain protected even in areas when it is not practical to set up static monitoring equipment.
One of the biggest developments of mobile monitoring is that new equipment is now able to monitor heart rates, stress levels and temperature – giving operatives a much broader insight into the health effects they are experiencing during a job.
It also means operatives can monitor the levels of protection they need, rather than constantly wearing or carrying cumbersome personal protective equipment which gets in the way or is too restrictive – they can ensure they are protected to the levels they need, but remain efficient.
Having this kind of mobile monitoring, which can instantly alert workers to changes in the atmosphere and risks from particulate exposure or possible gas explosions, has revolutionised works and site management in hazardous environments.
There is no doubt that health and safety in hazardous environments has been improved beyond measure compared to historical comparisons.
The ability to monitor an environment through the mix of static and mobile equipment means operatives can be constantly aware of the warning signs in an area, whether it be increases in particulates or gas in the air, to shifting environments or malfunctioning equipment.
However, risks will always remain and site management in hazardous environments like industrial and mining remain a big challenge – luckily the equipment and technology now exist to mitigate these risks much more than they could have been in the past.
Our eBook 'Connected Technology and the future of industrial safety technologies' discusses the