Mining sites pose higher occupational health and safety hazards compared with many other working environments, and among those risks are dangerous exposure to dust and noise.
One of the most common causes for concern is dust inhalation in a mine site. Coal dust is particularly hazardous, with ongoing inhalation causing coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), otherwise known colloquially as miner’s lung or black lung. Research shows that one in four coal miners have abnormal lung function, CWP or both1.
Similarly, inhaled silica dust – specifically respirable crystalline silica (RCS) – is responsible for causing an estimated 230 cases of lung cancer in Australian workers each year. RCS is produced by typical mining applications such as crushing, drilling, cutting or grinding any rock or soil that contains the prevalent silica mineral.
Likewise, the noise generated from the constant operation of heavy machinery and drilling can cause hearing damage to mine workers. Often this damage goes unnoticed until it’s too late and hearing loss or other conditions such as tinnitus have resulted from over-exposure to excessive noise.
Which is why monitoring is essential for both dust and noise exposure in mining. Employers need to know that their control measures, including personal protective equipment, are keeping workers safe. They also need to ensure they are complying with the relevant state or territory workplace health and safety (WHS) legislation.
Thermo Fisher Scientific Australian product manager for gas and industrial hygiene instrumentation, Nick Taylor, says an efficient way to monitor air quality and noise levels in mining sites is with wearable instrumentation.
“There have been remarkable developments with technology in recent years which allow for hands-free dust and noise assessment,” Taylor says, who has worked with customers in the Australian mining segment for over 15 years.
“These portable devices can be worn with ease and because they have wireless Bluetooth connectivity, the reporting data can be accessed remotely by the site safety manager. In conjunction with the built-in motion sensor, this also enables the manager to remotely check that the device is being used and is working properly on any given individual.”
As a leading supplier of instrumentation for the Australian mining industry, Taylor says the products that Thermo Fisher Scientific have available for monitoring are second to none.
“For example, the wearable Casella devices are best in class solutions for occupational hygiene,” Taylor expands. “They are intrinsically safe with wireless connectivity for easy data access.”
Taylor makes mention of the Casella Apex2 personal air sampling pump, which is designed to monitor worker exposure to dusts, fumes, gases and vapours.
It has an ergonomic, slim design, long battery life and has high back pressure capability, along with a motion detector to indicate if the pump has been used.
“The pump is worn on a belt, with a tube connected to a sample collection head which sits easily and comfortably over the worker’s shoulder, collecting samples during their working shift,” says Taylor.
“It’s ingress resistant to IP65 as well, meaning it can work in harsher environments, which is a must in Australian mining conditions.”
Additionally, Thermo Fisher Scientific also supply the Casella sample pump calibration system called Flow Detective.
“It’s an onsite, rugged, portable air sample pump calibration system with a wide flow range so that you can calibrate for high flow dust sampling and low flow vapour sampling” Taylor says.
“When used with Casella’s Bluetooth enabled sample pumps, it will wirelessly perform automatic calibration of your devices, so it’s a fantastic time saver and will also ensure accuracy. Ultimately, this makes it simpler for employers to service their devices.”
For noise measurement, Taylor recommends the Casella noise dosimeter, the dBadge2.
“These are also worn with ease on the shoulder and will simultaneously record and compute all noise data for every measurement run, reporting these back to ensure the workplace is within the regulated parameters,” Taylor says.
“These are also wireless Bluetooth devices so remote access is an added advantage.”
To conclude, Taylor reiterates the importance of having effective dust and noise monitoring solutions in place.
“It’s peace of mind for employees and regulatory compliance for employers, and technology such as the Casella range of wearable devices and calibration system simplifies the process of collection, assessment and servicing of equipment on site.”
- Small mine size is associated with lung function abnormality and pneumoconiosis among underground coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, Blackley et al, 2018.
- Silica dust, Cancer Council, https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/workplace-cancer/silica-dust