Keeping the Mining Workforce Safe

Worker on top of a rock
Highlights
  • Mining is still considered one of the most demanding and dangerous work environments, with the third highest fatality rate of any industry.
  • Skilled and robust medical and safety support is absolutely essential in enabling safe and cost efficient mining operations.

Natalie Henley, Sales Associate at RMI, explores best practice in protecting the workforce of one of the world’s most dangerous industries.

INTRODUCTION

Incredible work has been done across the global mining industry to improve safety standards for workers. The CDC, through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has kept records on US mining injuries and fatalities since 1983, and the fatality rate per 100,000 equivalent full time employees has thankfully fallen dramatically between then and now.  Despite this progress, mining is still considered one of the most demanding and dangerous work environments, with the third highest fatality rate of any industry, creating a challenge for organisations to provide reassurance to workers and to recruit the highly skilled staff needed to operate efficiently under ever-increasing demand. 

Each worksite presents its own unique set of obstacles and threats, and requires investment in a specialist tailored approach based on the specific circumstances to deliver exceptional healthcare and health and safety practice. At RMI our specialist teams develop and deliver bespoke health and medical services, from risk assessments to permanent on-site medical teams, to hazardous client work sites across the world.

MINIMISING RISK ONSITE

Managing an occupational health programme can be challenging within the mining industry due to the remoteness and demanding nature of the work. The requirement for workers to be in good physical condition is crucial to efficient operations and therefore ensuring each staff member has obtained medical clearance before starting work can create high administrative demands on an organisation and push it beyond its domain of expertise. To manage this demand organisations can implement an occupational health service to minimise the risk of medical issues causing operational delays. RMI has for many years offered outsourced support to mining companies, including travel vaccine administration, physical examinations, health history assessments, drug alcohol testing to clinical laboratory testing, among other services.

Our medical facilities, which can be temporarily or permanently integrated into a site, or operate in mobile structures, offer care for both occupational and non-occupational injuries and illnesses, together with around-the-clock services providing telemedicine support and case management. This all helps to limit the number of cases that require referral for further off-site medical care, saving time and resources, as well as increasing efficiency by enabling the worker to return to work as soon as possible.

ON-SITE CLINICS

For mining sites, health clinic solutions must be tailored to reflect the physical demands of every site. An on-site clinic should be considered an essential aspect of any project, with the cost-benefit of being able to prevent operational delays due to workforce health issues far outweighing the set up and staffing costs. A clinic is much more than a medic with a first aid kit, in enables advanced procedures be handled on site, and the provision of care through a broader scope of practice. For example, many of RMI’s onsite medics play a vital role in reinforcing healthy lifestyle among workers and ensuring early intervention through patrolling the job site to provide education and training. This can take the form of smoking cessation advice, tailored health awareness campaigns, first aid, and CPR training. This support helps to improve the day-to-day awareness of health and safety practices among the workforce, reduce the risk of injuries and illness, and ensure that workers feel valued.

Without access to a medical clinic available onsite, operators need to ensure that suitable transport options are available for emergency vehicles to both quickly exit and access wherever a member of staff may be, which can be particularly challenging in the tricky terrain. One solution for this is Mobile Treatment Centres (MTCs), four-wheel drive clinics staffed by RMI medics which can move with the site as it expands and changes, allowing our medical staff to provide treatment in the types of remote environments standard emergency vehicles are unable to reach. In addition to a treatment area, storage and hand washing facilities, each MTC is equipped with first aid supplies and emergency response equipment, meaning that our medics are well prepared to respond to any type of medical emergency.

EMERGENCY RESPONSE

All mining sites, even those located within reach of a hospital, should have a regularly reviewed Medical Emergency Response Plan. This plan outlines the accessible referral facilities and their respective capabilities to treat a wide variety of health emergencies and should specify how to transport patients to these places, which could be either by road or by air. Clinicians working on site also need to be capable of monitoring unwell patients and liaising with the company’s Topside team of physicians to discuss any concerns, all of which ensures that no time is lost in the event of an emergency medical situation.

Skilled and robust medical and safety support is absolutely essential in enabling safe and cost efficient mining operations, and while progress towards improving safety has been significant having the right support in place to reassure workers can improve recruitment pipelines, as well as make operations more efficient and profitable. Through a partnership with RMI, operators can have medical expertise embedded into their teams, working to reduce the consequences of illness-related absences and confidently tackle the unique challenge of working in remote locations.

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Natalie Henley is the Sales Associate for the Americas at Remote Medical International.