Evaluating PPE needs to ensure equipment is safe, meets standards & is functional & comfortable

Mines, as opposed to construction sites, are considered ongoing operations. Whether the mine is for copper, lead, aluminum, fuels, etc., it requires equipment and workers to be constantly operational and consistently effective to maintain productivity. Similar to construction sites, mine sites also require safety be a top priority; jobsite accidents or incidents have the capability to shut down the entire jobsite and production process.

Meeting standards and regulations is not always easy, especially in such a unique and specialized field. Personal protective equipment (PPE) experts and specialists have to be fully aware of the particular challenges miners face when it comes to health and safety.

PPE managers must consider current safety standards, regulations, functionality and usability of the equipment. In the mining industry, unique regulations, such as the need for workers to wear fall protection when climbing a ladder more than two steps high, call for additional areas of focus and ingenuity. The following are a five common health and safety problems and solutions for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) manager to keep in mind in the field of mining.

1. Culture vs. Compliance
Behaviorists talk about the need to create a health and safety culture. For miners, this is a key area of focus. While Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) stresses compliance, a health and safety culture is about teaching safety behaviors that support the PPE and training, and ensures that workers are committed to zero accidents.

For miners working underground, creating a health and safety culture is even more important. It is vital that they receive ongoing reminders to keep health and safety issues top of mind. One tip is to present the information in a creative way. Safety talks should not become commonplace. They need to stay fresh in the way they remind workers always to be mindful of their actions, and not drop their guard when facing the ongoing hazards in their work environment.

2. Increased Fall Protection Requirements
Fall protection requirements set by MSHA are stringent. Any time there is a chance of a fall, even if it is up two steps on a ladder, fall protection must be worn. To address the increased fall protection requirements and keep things as simple as possible, mining safety specialists offer equipment and practices to help support OSHA managers in helping workers adhere to these requirements.

For example, in the ladder scenario, a remote anchoring system can be used to install a vertical lifeline from the ground. The worker can then use an automatic fall arrester/rope grab as they ascend the ladder, freeing their hands for the climb while the vertical lifeline provides fall protection from the ground.

3. Need to Carry Many Tools
The work of miners can require different tool combinations than those used in other industries. For instance, miners need to have a light source with a battery pack; often wear respiratory and hearing and eye protection; and need an emergency evacuation kit. Newer protection options include a fall protection harness that features attachment points for the unique equipment they need to carry. The harness and attachment points helps ensure that the equipment stays connected to the wearer at all times and is easy to access and deploy as needed without being cumbersome.

4. Repeated Access/Entry into Maintenance Buildings
Due to remote locations, mines cannot afford the downtime it would take to ship equipment offsite for repair. When equipment needs maintenance, it is generally most efficiently done by a large scale maintenance team on-site. The majority of a mine’s maintenance equipment is housed in maintenance buildings where workers may need to be lowered down to and raised from the equipment needing service.

To help support this process and provide access that is readily available, fixed or mobile access systems can be utilized to support these access requirements.

5. Changing Hazards On-Site
The specific environments and hazards that workers encounter, and PPE they require to protect against them can vary greatly. In underground mines, different work zones help separate tasks—which can also define unique PPE needs and health and safety concerns. Any time a worker shifts from one zone to the next, or one task to the next, they may need to re-evaluate the health and safety concerns in place and ensure they are equipped with the proper PPE.

When evaluating any PPE needs, it is essential that a health and safety manager make sure the equipment is safe, meets standards, is functional and is comfortable. Companies should ensure PPE not only is properly selected for each individual industry and project, but that it is also PPE that the workers will want to wear, and wear properly. After all, the workers have to work with it, so it has to work for them.