Common Risks Overlooked in Mining Operations
The mining industry has a reputation for being a battlefield. It encompasses 'survival of the fittest' working conditions, futuristic machinery ready to end your life at any minute and unforeseeable gases at every turn. It’s no wonder why the industry holds one of the highest fatality rates among occupations.
The key to staying safe (and alive) is learning the risks associated with mining. Although shafts and tunnels can cave in or flood and ventilation can fail, these are the most common risks overlooked in mining operations.
Believe it or not, noise is one of the most common errors miners forget to take into consideration when preparing for work. Mine sites, especially underground, are filled with constant and blaring drilling and heavy machinery sounds, which can lead to hearing impairment.
To avoid potential hearing damage, companies should evaluate working conditions and noise exposure through risk assessments. Proper use of personal hearing protection is vital and necessary for health and safety purposes.
Open-pit mining requires long hours outdoors and significant exposure to sunlight. The result is an increase for overexposure to UV (ultraviolet) radiation, which can lead to dehydration, headaches, nausea, melanomas, and worse, skin cancer.
To combat the sunny rays of death, miners should continually find the most effective way of reducing exposure using a combination of protection methods. These include: appropriate protective clothing, constant application of sunscreen, and options to avoid peak times of UV rays.
The inhalation of coal dust is a serious concern for coal miners. Know in the industry as “miner’s lung” or “black lung”, coal dust has the inherent ability to cause shortness of breath, scarring of lung tissue, and ongoing respiratory issues. Although legal regulations have been enforced, new cases of coal dust still occur among miners.
Whole body vibration
If the body is a-rockin, you may have WBV.
Whole body vibration (WBV) occurs when vibration of any kind is transferred to the body. As you can imagine, this physical hazard frequently takes places in work involving heavy machinery.
“In the mining environment, WBV can be caused either by spending a lot of time sitting on machinery, which is most of the time in mining extraction, or by standing, such as working on jumbo operators. Some forms of vibration are ok, but they become dangerous when they involve uneven surfaces, vehicle activity such as ripping versus pushing material in a bulldozer, and engine vibrations,” says Megan Clark, mining medicine researcher.
According to Clark, symptoms include: vision impairment, musculoskeletal disorders, reproductive damage in females, and cardiovascular changes.
Exposure to harmful chemicals is just a typical day in the neighborhood for miners. To prevent chemical accidents like burns, respiratory problems and poisoning, mining companies should have a standard operating procedure (SOP) that addresses chemical use and handling, disposal, and personal protective equipment. Another important factor in minimizing chemical exposure is ventilation.
Lithium producers bullish as EV revolution ramps demand
Rising demand for lithium is stoking prices for the electric vehicle battery metal, fueling long-delayed expansions that still may not produce adequate supplies that automakers need to meet aggressive production plans.
Growing industry optimism from higher lithium prices is a change from last year when funding for mines and processing plants dried up during the pandemic.
Albemarle Corp, Livent Corp and other producers are scrambling to make more lithium, but some analysts worry the recent price jump will not spur a big enough expansion to meet a planned wave of new EV models by mid-decade.
Since January, General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation Co, along with other automakers and battery parts manufacturers, have said they will spend billions of dollars on EV plants.
U.S. President Joe Biden has proposed spending $174bn to boost EV sales and infrastructure. The European Union has similar plans, part of a rush to catch up with global EV leader China.
Those moves have helped an index of lithium prices jump 59 percent since April 2020, according to data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a commodity pricing provider.
The rising demand “reflects what feels like a real and fundamental turning point in our industry,” said Paul Graves, chief executive of Livent Corp, which supplies Tesla Inc. On Monday, it said it would more than double its annual lithium production to 115,000 tonnes.
Graves warned, though, that “it will be a challenge for the lithium industry to produce sufficient qualified material in the near and medium term.”
Albemarle, the world’s largest lithium producer, aims to double its production capacity to 175,000 tonnes by the end of the year when two construction projects are complete. Albemarle's Q1 profit beat expectations thanks to rising lithium prices. Chile’s SQM, the No. 2 producer, said its goal to expand production of lithium carbonate by 71 percent to 120,000 tonnes should be complete by December.
Australia’s Orocobre is paying $1.4 billion for smaller rival Galaxy Resources, a strategy designed to boost scale and help it grow faster in regions closer to customers.
“The next few years are going to be critical in terms of whether there’s enough available lithium supply, and that’s why you’re starting to see commodity prices start to ramp,” said Chris Berry, an independent lithium industry consultant.
The price gains helped Albemarle and other major producers, including China’s Ganfeng Lithium Co and SQM, post big gains in first-quarter profit and boost forecasts for the year.
Even China’s Tianqi Lithium Corp, saddled with debt due to years of low lithium prices, signaled that recovering demand should help it swing to a profit this year.
Forecasts call for demand for the white metals to surge from about 320,000 tonnes annually last year to more than 1 million tonnes annually by 2025, when many automakers plan to launch new EV fleets, according to Benchmark.
Still, demand is expected to outstrip supply in 2025 by more than 200,000 tonnes, so lithium prices may need to rise to encourage producers to build more mines. That could boost the prices consumers pay for EVs. “Companies across the lithium-ion supply chain are in the best position they’ve been in for the last 5 years,” said Pedro Palandrani of the Global X Lithium & Battery Technology ETF , which has doubled in value in the past year.