Did you know that mines are the most hazardous places to use electrical power? Electrical fatalities in mining are 8-12 times higher than in other industries. Three out of every four mining injuries can be attributed to electricity. Electricity is a necessary evil; however, there are ways to reduce the risks of using electricity in mines. In the following sections, we will examine how electricity can cause mining injuries and deaths, and discuss electrical safety practices in mines.
The use of electrical systems
Electricity is a vital part of mining today, but to ensure its safe operation, an electrical system needs to be installed. When installing an electrical system or power distribution center, it’s important to use construction-grade materials approved for mining use. Add sheathing to the electrical conductors, insulators, and connectors to make the equipment safe for mine use. Additionally, double-check your connectors and conduit fittings to ensure they are insulated and capable of handling high resistances. This will prevent sparking and overheating. When installing your electrical system, make sure it is adequately grounded, establishing physical contact with the earth. These high-level guidelines will help you successfully use electrical systems.
The use of electrical equipment
Electrical systems are installed to supply electricity to equipment. To avoid electrical hazards in mines, it is best to use low-voltage equipment. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, and high-voltage equipment may be necessary. Ensure that your equipment, regardless of voltage, is compatible with the installed electrical system. Double-check the sealing of cable covers and conducting screens to protect insulation and conductors. Plugs and sockets should be restrained or bolted to prevent unauthorized personnel from changing the system. This will also ensure that all workers are aware of the electrical equipment they are using at any given time.
Preventing electrical system or equipment damage
There is nothing scarier than an electrically-powered piece of equipment going haywire. While malfunctions are not always preventable, those caused by equipment damage can be. Disconnect the system or equipment from the power supply as soon as you notice any electrical defects or damaged equipment. If you can quickly repair the equipment, that’s great. Otherwise, lock it away until repairs can be done. Do not leave the equipment broken, as someone unaware of the defect might attempt to use it. Workers should be trained on using emergency equipment in case of electrical failures, and mineshafts should be equipped with emergency equipment for employees to respond to any situation.
Why are mines prone to electrical hazards?
In mines, electricity is particularly dangerous due to the following reasons:
- Many mines have dangerous levels of flammable dust and gas.
- Electrical equipment used in mining is often not qualified for such use.
- Unstable work environments are created by environmental factors such as dampness, vibration, and humidity.
Fortunately, agencies such as the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have prioritized the safety and health of miners and workers. Both agencies have conducted extensive research to prevent electrical injuries and fatalities in mining. MSHA has established guidelines on working with electricity in mines, which can be found in the 30 C.F.R. Part 56.12 volume.
This post was written by Justin Tidd, Director at Beckers electrical! For nearly a half a century, Becker Mining has been at the forefront of industry safety. Becker/SMC is the industry’s leader in increasingly more sophisticated electrical control systems. Most of the major innovations, design features and specialized electrical components have been developed by Becker/SMC.