Mining safety should always be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, from the operators all the way back to the office staff. From 2000 to 2008, there were 14 fatalities in coal mines related to poor maintenance of mining equipment. That number really should be zero given that maintenance is something that is completely under the control of operators and management.

Ventilation and Air Quality

Inadequate supply of ventilation to mining personnel in underground confines is a significant concern because of the long-term health effects of exposure to that exhaust and the possibility of catastrophic build-up of explosive gases. Dust, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other toxic airborne substances also carry immediate and long-term threats to the health and safety of mine workers.

Vehicle emissions are a primary and persistent detriment to underground air quality. Poorly maintained diesel-powered mining equipment can contribute to harmful emissions in those work environments. Equipment for transporting mining personnel and materials, rock blasting, drilling and removal all need to be properly maintained to minimize the emissions they produce.

Operators often notice the signs before anyone else that mining equipment is not functioning optimally. Black smoke coming out of equipment is a signal that too much unspent fuel is making it into the exhaust, likely because too little air is making it into the engine. Miners themselves may experience headaches, light-headedness and nausea from elevated CO, CO2 and NO2 levels.

Derating Machinery for Higher Altitudes

Most testing is done at sea level, and operations of equipment can differ significantly at higher elevations. By maintaining diesel engines properly, including adjusting for altitude, fuel efficiency and emissions can be minimized, increasing the safety of work conditions for miners.

Workers need to be on board with these equipment alterations, because it impacts the performance of the equipment they rely on. De-rated vehicles have lower horsepower because they have to deal with lower oxygen levels in the thinner air, and practices may have to change to efficiently operate with equipment performing at that level. The health benefits are certainly worth the sacrifice in power, which can be compensated for by changing gear-ratios and even superchargers on certain machinery.

Mining Equipment Testing

Testing protocols need to be in place to monitor exhaust levels, and preventive maintenance schedules can be adjusted to ensure that regular maintenance is done frequently enough to prevent periodic rises in certain emissions levels. Consistency in testing is key, as it gives an operation realistic baselines from which to make changes and make consistent improvements and working conditions.

Particulate emissions are of significant concern when mining equipment is in use. Under MSHA federal regulations, equipment operators for mechanized mining units must do bimonthly sampling of respirable dust and exhaust emissions to ensure that equipment is operating properly.

If certain equipment or areas are in violation, corrective measures will have to be taken, both with the ventilation plan for the work area and the maintenance of equipment that may be performing below standards.

Canadian standards for exhaust were increased recently as well, and new safety training requirements for mining personnel are also being implemented in 2013, which will include equipment monitoring and safety testing. Clearly, the shift in the industry is toward more stringent standards and safety measures. By making maintenance and testing part of a company ethos, firms can put themselves on a trajectory to be in compliance with standards as they arise, and consistently improve working conditions.

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