Michal Wozniakowski-Zehenter on blasting safety in daily mining operations.
Blasting is a crucial aspect of mining operations that involves the use of explosives to break down hard rock formations and access valuable minerals. However, it is also one of the most hazardous activities in mining and poses significant risks to workers and the environment if not properly managed. In this article, we will discuss various measures that mining companies can implement to ensure blasting safety.
Mining operations involve the use of explosives to break down hard rock formations to access valuable minerals. As blasting is one of the most hazardous activities in mining, multiple measures can be implemented to ensure that all aspects of these operations go according to the plan.
The risk assessment process involves identifying and evaluating potential hazards, assessing the likelihood of their occurrence, and determining the potential consequences of such events. Some important factors need to be considered during the process, naming the site conditions as the first one.
The location of nearby structures, roads and utilities can affect the potential impact of the blast in open pit mines. In underground operations, it is mandatory to identify potential hazards associated with the release of hazardous gases, and the risk of rock falls. It is essential to consider these factors when determining the blast design and the appropriate distance from the blast site.
Another important part is the selection of the explosives. Different types with varying properties can affect the impact of the blast, especially, the amount and type of material used, the initiation system, and the placement of the charge can all affect effects including the stability of the surrounding rocks. In open mine pits, weather conditions, such as wind speed and direction, might influence the blast’s impact on nearby structures and communities.
Regardless of where the operation takes place, the experience and training of the personnel involved can affect the risk of accidents or incidents. It is important to ensure that all working crew are not only adequately trained and follow the appropriate safety procedures but also to have an emergency action plan in place. These guidelines should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that they are effective.
Proper training of workers involved in blasting activities is another critical aspect of ensuring safety. It is also important for efficiency since delays might result in millions of euros in losses per blast, compliance and quality. Only authorised and trained personnel can handle explosives and need to know all aspects of their sensitivity, stability and detonation velocity to handle them safely. They must be stored in secure, designated areas, and transported in a manner mitigating the risk of accidental detonation.
One important aspect is the design of an effective blast pattern with proper drilling of the holes and setting charges. Everyone working in the mine needs to understand how to properly use personal protective gear. It’s also essential to provide ongoing training and education to keep workers up-to-date on the latest blasting techniques and safety procedures.
Since hard hats, safety glasses, earplugs and other parts of protective clothing are a no-brainer, there is plenty of other equipment which can be used to ensure the reduction of accidents. Blasts shelters are one of them. They are made out of steel or concrete and are used to protect the crew from the force of an explosion and potential flying debris. They work best in combination with the blast mats. Made out of heavy-duty rubber or woven materials, being placed over explosives minimise mentioned fly rock and ground vibration. Past usage of seismographs will also help to indicate the safe distance for miners from the blast site.
Before beginning any blasting work, it is essential to have clear warning signs and signals in place to alert workers of the impending danger. They could include sirens, flashing lights, verbal warnings or message notifications directly to the personal devices or radios of all crew. Blasting can generate a lot of dust and fumes, which can be harmful to workers. What’s also important is proper ventilation equipment. Dust collectors or exhaust fans should be used to remove harmful particles from the air. If all those measures are in place, perfect. But still, preparation for an emergency is pivotal. If something really went sideways, the availability of first aid kits, fire extinguishers and other rescue equipment is a must.
Pre- and post-blast inspection & blast monitoring
Inspecting the site before and after the explosion as well as monitoring it during the event is also crucial to ensure safety measures for the personnel, all assets and the mine itself.
Before conducting a blast, a pre-blast inspection should be carried out including checking the blast area for any obstructions or hazards, verifying that the blast design is appropriate, and confirming that all equipment is in good working condition. During and after the explosion check are critical to measuring vibrations and noise levels as well as air quality with the level of toxic gases and dust that doesn’t pose a health hazard to workers and nearby communities if the operation is performed in an open pit mine.
Post-blast inspection should be conducted to assess the effectiveness of the blast and ensure that there are no unexploded charges or other hazards in the area together with checking for any damages to nearby structures or the environment. Those assessments might be performed with the usage of drones and automated robots for remote and quick analysis or ground penetrating radars for a detailed overview of the rock structure.
Communication & tracking systems
For communication to be effective it should be clear and concise, and all workers should be aware of the blasting schedule and any potential hazards. Workers should also be trained to report any unsafe conditions or incidents immediately.
Information about upcoming events should be delivered to each person who might be affected by the previously mentioned warning systems, including lights and sounds. It also includes personal tags and readers as a part of a real-time personnel location system. Based on proximity to the blasting area, all affected crew can receive an SMS notification about upcoming events to seek shelter in a safe area.
Mine operators can also easily see on the screen in the control room if all areas are evacuated and prepared for blasting. These features are available in Crew Companion, a scalable and customisable personnel monitoring solution. Radio communication is also used to manage the positions of miners before executing the blast.
FAQS blasting safety
What are the potential hazards of blasting? The potential hazards of blasting include air overpressure, ground vibration, fly rock, noise, dust, and toxic fumes.
Who is responsible for ensuring blasting safety? Blasting safety is the responsibility of the blasting contractor, the mine or construction site operator, and any regulatory agencies involved in overseeing blasting activities.
What are the recommended safety precautions for workers during blasting? Personnel should be trained in blasting safety, wear appropriate personal protective equipment, follow established procedures and safe work practices, be in communication with the blast operator, and be informed of the potential hazards associated with the blasting.
There is a lot of pressure to keep the schedule of operations in each mine. Stakes are high since every delay in blasting operations might generate huge profit losses. This brings a lot of pressure on all the involved parties, which might lead to mistakes and human errors. That’s why blasting safety is a crucial aspect that cannot be overlooked. It involves careful planning, training and execution of blasting activities to ensure the safety of workers and nearby communities. If you want to improve your blasting process efficiency, you may be interested in Identec Solutions’ newest version of Crew Companion (1.3). It automatically informs every miner in a danger zone in time to evacuate before a scheduled blast.
Michal Wozniakowski-Zehenter is with Identec Solutions.