Working in a mine involves risks. Fires and cave-ins can put lives at risk and industrial-scale operations can pose a threat to the environment if the process is flawed. Examples of accidents can be found both abroad and in Finland.
In terms of the number of accidents involving actual mining work, Finnish mines have a good track record. It has been 13 years since the last major mining accident and occupational safety figures in the mining industry are actually better than average for the industrial sector.
"According to the statistics of the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency Tukes, the average accident frequency rate in the industrial sector is more than 30 accidents per million working hours compared to 13.9 in the mining industry. The rate has been falling, even though the number of employees is growing and new players have entered the field", says Project Manager Pertti Kortejärvi.
Factors contributing to this downward trend include the joint efforts of mining sector organisations to improve occupational safety culture. Tangible action to this end includes a Tekes-funded project "Safety generates well-being at work, better quality and better results", which ended this spring and in which Kortejärvi served as a project manager in 2012–2015.
From best practices to an operating model
In the early 2000s, new players, both Finnish and international, entered the mining sector, and new mines were opened, sparking the need for joint development work in the industry. This coincided with legislative changes, which reshaped the playing field for all parties involved.
To improve safety in the mining sector, a MainaRi project coordinated by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health was launched in 2006, with six mines on board. The project ended with a clearly identified need for cooperation, and in 2011 the Finnish Mine Safety Advisory Board was set up to continue this work. The Advisory Board consists of representatives from all holders of mining permits and several authorities and research organisations.
"At our first meeting, we decided to take action and start projects on various themes to create a safer working culture in mines. Our task was to identify areas in need of development and to come up with best practices," Pertti Kortejärvi explains.
The project, which was funded by Tekes and linked to the Green Mining programme, was piloted in four mines: Pyhäsalmi, Kittilä, Talvivaara and Laiva.
The project team sought development needs and best practices in all Finnish mines. The practices were piloted in selected mines – on the basis of experiences gained a general operating model was developed for use in all mines.
"Tekes funding enabled the extensive scope of our project. With public support, we were able to benefit from the best expertise and to share the project deliverables with everyone. We can make the greatest difference in this way."
Crisis preparedness helps to avoid crises
The models developed during the "Safety generates well-being at work, better quality and better results" project have been deployed in educational materials and guidebooks used in the industry.
One of the most concrete results of the project is the crisis management guidelines piloted at the Pyhäsalmi mine. The work began with the identification of potential risks, for which the mine devised preventive measures. The model also outlined various responses to different emergency scenarios.
"Proper preparedness eliminates any unnecessary hesitation and delays when an accident occurs, and people know who to alert and when. This helps to get the ball rolling."
Fortunately, the crisis management guidelines have not been tested in practice. But, according to Kortejärvi, having such guidelines in place encourages mining companies to pursue the overall development of their operations, as indicated by the fact that the accident frequency rate fell in all of the participating mines during the project.
"Safety is not an element that can be isolated from production. Well-planned and uninterrupted operations equal safety. And this also affects the bottom line. Just one work-related accident costs around EUR 5,000–8,000."
For further information, please contact
Secretary to the Finnish Mine Safety Advisory Board
Tel. +350 44 9722 549
Text: Jarno Forssell, Pohjoisranta Burson-Marsteller