‘Health’ and ‘safety’ are often words used together, as though they are a single concept, but great care needs to be taken to address their seperate needs: risks to safety are immediate and happen in the workplace, whereas occupational health risks are often long-term and may not manifest for many years.
Minining operations are complex workplaces covering a range of potentially dangerous activities, as well as hazardous engineering processes. At the same time, they are often located in remote and challenging environments vulnerable to natural catastrophes and under resourced health infrastructure.
Members have a goal of zero fatalities, which they work towards by, among other things, fully understanding the health risks of operations through occupational health risk assessment (HRA).
A successful HRA is a partnership of occupational health advisors, occupational and industrial hygiene advisors, managers and operational staff. And will allow operations to identify risks and hazards, develop an understanding of potential health effects and measure exposure to harmful substances.
The HRA process also involves the consideration of political, social, economic and engineering factors combined with risk assessment information to develop, analyse and compare options for better health outcomes.
One particular challenge is work-related illnesses. This exemplifies the social and business imperative in taking a robust approach to HRA, as work-related illnesses alone can directly impact on the productivity and efficiency of a mining and metals company, usually through:
- lost working days
- under-utilisation of expensive production plants
- decreases in economies of scale
- decreased morale
- higher staff turnover rates
- loss of skilled and experienced workers
- loss of investment in training and development
- difficulties in recruiting new, high-quality workers.
ICMM’s good practice guidance on occupational health risk assessment - first issued in 2009 and updated in 2016 - tries to address those complexities and offer guidance on how to tackle them.