In safe hands: the importance of protecting mine worker’s hands
How important are a worker’s hands? In any industry your hands dictate the way you work, but in the mining industry, your hands can literally control the industry. So how can we look after them? Paul Jakeway, Marekting Director at Deb UK, believes that the mining and quarrying industry has a heightened risk when it comes to skincare;
“Mining and quarrying workers have to deal with the dangers of working with heavy loads and equipment as well as unstable underground conditions on a regular basis. However, when examining the risks to industrial workers, what is often neglected is the strain that their skin, the most delicate and largest organ of the body, is placed under. The skin on the hands, in particular, can be easily damaged in the workplace by a range of hazardous substances, and by UV radiation from the sun,” he said
“Each occupation contains its own risk to employees, but for mining and quarrying workers, this level of risk is dramatically heightened.”
How to protect hands from skin damage for mining and quarrying workers
Mining and quarrying workers have to deal with the dangers of working with heavy loads and equipment as well as unstable underground conditions on a regular basis. However, when examining the risks to industrial workers, what is often neglected is the strain that their skin, the most delicate and largest organ of the body, is placed under. The skin on the hands, in particular, can be easily damaged in the workplace by a range of hazardous substances, and by UV radiation from the sun.
Each occupation contains its own risk to employees, but for mining and quarrying workers, this level of risk is dramatically heightened. According to a report by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the mining and quarrying industries have the highest number of incidences of skin disease per 100 full time employees than any other profession at 31.5. The next highest incident rate recorded is 10.4 for manufacturing employees and 9.1 for those working in construction.
This is unsurprising, considering the multiplicity of potential irritants which employees can come into contact with in mining and quarrying workplaces. Fossil fuels and their by-products, cleaning products, organic solvents, metalworking fluids, cement; all are hazardous substances that employees could be exposed to at their workplace. Limestone quarrying contains an additional risk for the hand health of employees, because if wet lime comes into contact with the skin, then its alkaline components have the potential to penetrate and burn the skin. In mining and quarrying, a variety of machinery is also commonly used, again heightening the risk of skin damage from contact with substances such as diesel, lubricating oil, grease and coolant. Contact with all of the above chemicals can occur through immersion, contact with contaminated tools and surfaces or by the substance splashing onto workers hands.
However, the risk of skin damage to mining and quarrying workers is two-fold, as employees are also at risk from excessive UV exposure. Workers in the industrial sector spend upwards of eight hours a day outside, and rarely protect themselves. Industrial workers are also likely to be in close contact with concrete, a highly reflective surface for UV rays, again increasing the risk. Despite the risk of irreparable skin damage from UV rays, it has been revealed that only 59% of outdoor workers use sun cream whilst at work, whilst 70% of workers stated that they hadn’t received any training on the risks of working in the sun.
Both hazardous substances and UV rays can have disastrous effects on hand health, and for those in the mining and quarrying professions, this can lead to visible skin problems; ranging from sore, chapped skin, to instances of occupational dermatitis. The latter skin condition is a common diagnosis for UK workers, with 70% of occupational skin diseases being diagnosed as the more serious contact dermatitis
Why employers must minimise the risk of skin damage
It is in an employer’s best interest to minimise the risk of occupational skin diseases, as a diagnosis can lead to absenteeism, which can hamper work productivity, increase costs for the employer, reduce employee efficiency and create poor staff morale. For the employee, they are likely to suffer a loss of income due to a prolonged absence from work, as well as it impacting their well-being and personal life.
Excessive sun exposure without effective protection can be even more damaging for hand health as it can lead to skin damage, which can cause excessive ageing, sunburn, eye damage and skin cancer.
Due to the high risk involved in working in both mines and quarries, employers must understand that they have a duty of care towards their workers. Employees should be effectively protected from hazardous substances in the workplace and UV rays. This can be done by reducing contact with harmful materials where possible, providing employees with effective skin care protection products and providing education on the associated risks.
For employers in the mining and quarrying industries, a three step hand care plan is usually favoured. The first step is to protect the skin before it comes into contact with any contaminants by using a cream which is perfume-free and non-greasy; and therefore able to protect against water and non-water based irritants. Cleansing the hands is the next step, which, if done effectively using the right products, will wash away any dirt and grime that comes into contact with the skin to minimise skin irritation. Thirdly, the skin will benefit from a carefully formulated after-work cream to restore and replenish the skin.
If employees implement this three step hand care plan in the mining and quarrying industries, alongside an effective UV protection plan, then not only will it ensure work productivity and profits are high for employers, but they will also have a healthy and happy workforce.
Low carbon world needs $1.7trn in mining investment
According to a new report from consultancy Wood Mackenzie, mining companies need to invest nearly $1.7trn in the next 15 years to help supply enough copper, cobalt, nickel and other metals needed for the shift to a low carbon world.
Cutting carbon emissions
The United States, Britain, Japan, Canada and others raised their targets on cutting carbon emissions to halt global warming at a summit in April hosted by US President Joe Biden.
Meeting those targets will need large-scale deployment of electric vehicles, storage for power generated from renewables and electricity transmission, all of which require industrial materials, such as lightweight aluminium and metals used in batteries such as cobalt and lithium.
Wood Mackenzie analyst Julian Kettle calculated miners needed to invest about $1.7trn during the next 15 years to “deliver a two-degree pathway - where the rise in global temperatures since pre-industrial times is limited to 2°C”.
“At an industry level, there seems to be reticence around investing sufficient capital to develop future supply at the pace and scale demanded by the energy transition (ET),” he said.
Mining firms are wary of making heavy investments after their experience of the last decade when they invested in new capacity just as demand peaked, leading to a collapse in prices and revenues. They also need to please investors, who are unlikely to want to see dividends diverted to capital spending.
Rising demands of investors related environment, social and governance (ESG) issues further add to the challenge.
Australia, Canada and Western Europe carry a low ESG risk but some of the best resources are in high-risk areas, such as Democratic Republic of Congo, which sits on about half the world’s cobalt reserves according to the U.S. Geological Survey. “Given the need to meet tough decarbonisation and ESG targets, Western governments, lenders, investors and consumers will need to get comfortable operating in jurisdictions where ESG issues are more complex,” Kettle said.
Kettle said government support was needed to help miners comply with ESG issues to ensure production from high-risk areas was conducted in an acceptable way to consumers.
“Then, and only then, will the West be able to secure sufficient volumes of the raw materials needed to pursue the energy transition in the timescales envisaged.”