Mitigating the Risk of Mining Injuries
Written by Dr. Farrell Cahill
In industrial occupations such as mining, there are heavily monitored controls to lessen the risk of occupational disease such as lung disease, lead poisoning, or skin disease; just to name a few.
However, these hazards are not the only factors that affect the health and productivity of your workforce. Consider these statistics:
Incorrect manual handling, any movement involving lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying, is one of the most common causes of workplace injury. Educating miners on proper protocol and technique allows their employers to manage the risk of workplace injury and the many associated human and economic costs.
Identifying the Risks
Workplace injuries can occur through gradual build up over time, or they can happen within seconds as a result of a single incident.
In both cases, poor habits and a lack of training are often key contributing factors. It is for this reason that it’s critical for both employers and miners to understand the many early warning signs of potentialmusculoskeletal injury and disorders.
Tasks that may put miners at high risk of injury include:
- Repetitive movements – Not allowing muscles and joints adequate rest for recuperation
- Stationary positions – Promotes muscle imbalance and may result in inefficient movement patterns
- Awkward body positions – Placing the body in an inefficient position will result in a quicker time to fatigue
In addition, in safety sensitive environments like many of those in the mining industry, it is critically important to identify signs of both mental and physical fatigue.
Some of the signs and symptoms of muscle fatigue or overexertion include:
- Burning sensation in the muscles
- Muscle tightness
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramping
- Muscle soreness
Address the Problem
Third party occupational health and safety service providers have traditionally attempted to over-simplify and standardize injury prevention or manual handling training programs with hopes lowering employee injury rates. But this approach is fundamentally flawed.
Many factors must be considered before specific manual handling methods can be created, taught, and practically trained. Effective prevention programs must be practical, specific to the occupation, and also ensure meaningful impacts on the rates of musculoskeletal injuries. The correct approach will be tailored to ensure a higher level of engagement and support in lowering injury rates that contribute to worker loss time.
Take Action Towards Prevention
Effective injury prevention or manual handling training programs must ensure employees obtain a well-rounded knowledge of proer materials handling.
This includes training around the risk factors involved with improper manual handling and the development of proper techniques to help prevent incidents and injuries on the worksite. There are many situations where handling materials and equipment within a mine falls outside of a standardized manual handling approach, where the occupations must be investigated specifically.
For this reason, a Job Demand Analysis (JDA) is always the first step in assessing what a manual handling program must include. It is essential to work closely with miners in the field to determine the critical functional movements to avoid musculoskeletal injury/disorders.
When a worker is lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying incorrectly it may not hurt them right away. In fact, it may not hurt for a very long time but it does slowly take a toll on their body. The injury becomes more significant as time goes on which can trigger the pain to become chronic. Mitigate risk of injury by taking a preventative approach sooner rather than a reactionary approach when it is too late.
Empower Your People
The critical and/or essential physical demands must first be determined with the miners before any injury prevention approach can be attempted. As the subject matter experts, the miners understand the true scope of the job and they will be able to help by providing feedback that develops into realistic and practical goals set by the occupational health and safety provider. No health and safety program is successful without the worker’s buy-in.
By taking the worker centred approach, it will ultimately yield to a higher engagement, as well as an increased chance of a positive culture shift.
Effective occupational specific manual handling training should include:
- Management and education of physical hazards
- Education on the importance of proper manual handling
- Education on the musculoskeletal disorders caused by improper manual handling
- Job Demand Analysis
- Develop ergonomic accommodations to reduce physical demand
- Develop occupation specific manual handling protocol
- Educate and train employees on occupation specific manual handling
Additionally, proper Manual Handling education and training must include a thorough evaluation to support potential limitations or asymmetries, poor movement patterns, weaknesses and imbalances, and improper biomechanics.
Example: Poor Flexibility
Individuals with poor flexibility have 2.5 times more of a risk of injury as compared with someone with average flexibility, and up to 8 times the risk as compared to an individual with high flexibility. To combat this, employers should supplement the benefits of manual handling training by implementing occupation specific resistance training and stretching. These activities will help to improve strength, muscle balance, proprioception, and range of motion.
This can significantly reduce the risk of slips, trips, and awkward movements, all of which contribute to injury. These activities can also reduce the risk of muscle strains when working in a lengthened position, such as bending or crouching.
Overall, resistance training and stretching regularly throughout the day is important to ensure that all soft tissues are flexible and able to operate throughout a wide-range of motion.
About this Author
Dr. Farrell Cahill has been investigating the development, prevention and treatment of chronic diseases and injuries for over 19 years and has found that Occupation Specific Manual Handling and health promotion helps to significantly reduce both injuries and chronic diseases in the workplace. He holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Kinesiology with a PhD in Medicine. With 17 years of research experience, he has published 26 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals and over 50 abstracts at national and international conferences.