Mining is one of the most dangerous activities on the planet. Without sufficient safety practices, miners are at high risk for injuries or even death. In 2019 alone, more than 287 lives were lost to mining. Explosions due to methane or coal dust and accidents during blasting are two of the most common causes of injury and death in mining. Governments and safety agencies have strict protocols and restrictions on mining to ensure the safety of the workers. Accidents happen when safety checks are not carried out or protocols are not followed.
Regular safety inspections and walkarounds are crucial to ensure a safe environment for workers. In this article, we explore safety walkarounds in mines, their role in keeping workers safe, and best practices for conducting the same.
Safety walkaround is a procedure performed to check if any aspect of safety is compromised in a workplace. This includes ensuring that all the safety protocols are followed and if the environment itself is safe enough to work.
Usually, a safety walkaround in a mine involves walking around all the routes and checking for anything that may cause accidents. This could be as simple as ensuring everyone’s donning their safety gear, and as complicated as ensuring all the equipment is functioning properly. It’s also important to check for materials or conditions that may cause accidents, for example, slippery floors or stairs without guard rails.
A safety walkaround is similar to a safety inspection, but is much less formal and is often conducted by the company’s own employees. If inspections are like quality control, walkarounds are like quality assurance. Due to the very nature of walkarounds, they’re much less resource intensive and are conducted more often than inspections. They may even be conducted daily or during every shift.
They’re also different from safety audits, which are formal processes often conducted by government or regulatory agencies to verify compliance with safety-related rules and laws.
Even though are not formal, well-organized walkarounds can be an integral part of your risk management plan. They improve safety without adding resources. It drills down the importance of safety within the workplace and creates a safety culture. The main ideas or goals behind walkarounds are to spot and remove any safety issues and to make safety a part of the working environment.
If equipment checks are made part of the safety walkaround, companies can also save a lot of resources in terms of equipment maintenance and repairs. By logging equipment conditions, companies can keep track of their assets and conduct their repairs before they break down.
The main benefit is that safety walkarounds improve the safety of the miners and other personnel without significantly improving the resources needed for the same. The informal nature of a safety walkaround keeps the resource requirement low, but they prevent safety issues in between inspections.
As we discussed above, walkarounds create a culture of safety within the organization. This culture can prevent accidents and reduce costs due to the same. Most of the time safety initiatives come from the management or regulatory authorities and employees usually just go along with it. With a safety culture, everyone is aware of the importance of safety and the benefits of adhering to safety standards. And the initiatives come from the employees themselves.
Another advantage is that walkarounds help keep equipment costs down. With regular walkarounds, you can keep track of the status of machinery; for example, if they’re making more noise than usual, if the lubricants and other materials are topped off regularly, etc. By monitoring the condition of pieces of equipment, the organization can easily understand when a piece of machinery may need maintenance or repair. This prevents unexpected equipment breakdown and associated downtime.
Unexpected breakdowns can also create huge losses for organizations. The mining industry relies on many equipment and machinery for drilling, carrying huge loads, safety, and many other uses. And if any of them breaks down, it can cost the company a lot in terms of lost productivity.
Safety walkarounds also reduce accidental safety issues that inspections or audits won’t catch. For example, while a workplace may be safe on most days, maybe on an odd day, someone leaves a stretch of cable lying around creating a tripping hazard. Or maybe someone spilled some oil on the floor creating a fire hazard, or maybe an unstable section of the ground or roof is not properly marked. Safety walkarounds catch these on time and ensure measures are taken to prevent accidents around these.
A major benefit of safety walkarounds is that it helps safety officers get direct insights into the working environment. While you can implement measures from a checklist and regulatory guidelines, every working environment is unique and will need safety policies tailored for them. And inspections or audits happen only once in a while and may not accurately capture the everyday working conditions. Walkarounds present an opportunity for safety personnel to gain insights into the dangers present in a workplace. It can help spot unsafe practices that may otherwise go unnoticed. It can help safety professionals create better and more custom safety policies for the organization and prevent unsafe practices from developing.
While safety walkarounds are a lot less formal than an audit, it’s not a walk in the park. For best results, you need to be adequately prepared for it, and for that, you need to plan it well.
Before conducting safety walkarounds, you need to carefully assess the mine and create a detailed report on the safety risks. You need to list out areas that may be dangerous or hazardous and potential safety threats. And based on this create a list of items that have to be checked during every walkaround.
Once you’ve planned it out, you can use an app like TargPatrol to streamline the inspection process. Add your team members to the app and create daily schedules for them. Include all the checkpoints they have to cover and the tasks they have to perform as checklists. It may also be a good idea to conduct a trial walk-around with the entire team just so everyone knows what’s expected of them. It may also provide an opportunity for them to get used to the app, understand how to log incidents, add photographs, etc.
Apps like TargPatrol also let you keep track of your safety professionals as they perform their walkarounds. While the app lets you use GPS, NFC or RFID tags would be better suited to track officers in a mine since GPS devices may not have enough range. In this case, while planning walkarounds, the admin team must place NFC or RFID tags around the route. With these tags, the app can accurately track the team, log the walkarounds, and make sure every task is completed. It can also ensure the safety of the team; the admin team can configure alerts and alarms in case an employee fails to reach a checkpoint within a given time.
Before going on the walkaround brief the team. The team should read the logs from the latest walkaround to know of all the safety issues noticed and to see if they have been rectified. They should also ensure they have all the equipment they may need and that their safety gear is properly secured.
During the walkaround, the team should make be alert and constantly on the lookout for any safety issues. If they notice any safety issues - maybe an employee is not wearing their safety gear properly, maybe a hazard is not properly marked - they should log it and rectify it as soon as possible.
While they should make sure that they cover all the items on their list, they should also not limit themselves to the checklist, but rather keep an eye out for other issues as well.
The safety team should also communicate with employees during the walkaround. They should listen for any safety concerns these employees may have. If they operate any equipment, they may be able to notice issues before it becomes a major problem. The walkaround team must log these conversations and any concerns the workers pointed out.
As we discussed earlier, it may also be a good idea to log equipment status during walkarounds. Teams can check equipment calibration, make sure equipment is in working order, check inventory, and order supplies. While it may be tempting to fix all issues, it would be a good idea to not widen the scope too much so that you can complete the walkaround on time.
Once the walkaround is completed, the next step is to make note of the changes to be made. During the walkaround you may have noticed issues, maybe supplies to be replenished, workers need more safety training, or equipment may need replacing. After the walkaround, your notes must be standardized and must reach the relevant parties who can make the changes.
The issues must be prioritized, with those that need immediate fixing and those that can wait. If a particular site has to be shut down until the problems are rectified, the relevant parties must be informed as soon as possible.
It’s also important to analyze the logs regularly. These logs can reveal trends or patterns appearing as recurring issues. Maybe the hazards are not being marked clearly, or maybe the workers are not donning their safety gear at all times; either way, the root cause has to be identified and rectified.
Here are some best practices for effective safety walkarounds
Checklists are a powerful tool that will make sure that your walkarounds are standardized and that you don’t miss out on anything. You can also use them as logs of walkarounds during safety audits.
Tracking your team members will ensure that they stick to the route, remain safe and that the walkaround is completed on time. In an environment like a mine, tracking your teammates will help you find them quickly in case something goes wrong. You can use TargPatrol for tracking your team through RFID or NFC.
A walk around every once in a while would be helpful, but to get the best results, you must conduct them regularly. It may be a good idea to conduct them once or even after every shift. Without regular walkarounds, it won’t be easy to find patterns or other long-term issues. Regular walkarounds will also keep you track of your machinery.