4.13 Safety of monitoring

Leading practice environmental monitoring includes leading practice management of the safety of the personnel involved. While mine operations are required by law to maintain high standards of safety, monitoring programs often involve activities that are otherwise atypical of mining project practices and might not be covered by the standard safety practices for the project. This can be especially true of short-term or one-off monitoring projects or tasks, such as spill responses or special investigations.

Environmental and social monitoring may require sample collection well outside the project boundaries, such as in reference or upstream areas. Standard mine site safety procedures or personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements may be inappropriate and even potentially hazardous in some circumstances. For example, water-quality monitoring may involve accessing sampling sites by boat, and wearing steel-capped boots, a standard mine site requirement, could substantially increase the risk of drowning in the event of a boating accident.

As many mine sites are in remote areas, monitoring at locations remote from the mine site can further increase the risks to personnel. Safe communication requirements and transport backup systems for monitoring staff can differ greatly from those required by other project staff. Monitoring staff may be exposed to hazards that are rare or simply do not occur in the main mining areas, such as aggressive animals or fast currents. For example, crocodile attack is a very real risk in environmental water sampling in many parts of northern Australia; crocodiles have even been recorded in open mine pits, water storages and tailings dams.

Weather conditions during some of the critical times for collecting monitoring data, such as when plants are shut down during storms or wet season floods or periods of extreme temperature, pose additional risks to monitoring staff. The data collected during these periods may be particularly valuable for environmental management, but must only be collected in a safe manner. Leading practice does not use ‘safety’ as an excuse for not collecting data at such times, but involves plans for collecting it safely.

These special safety requirements for monitoring need to be carefully considered for each monitoring program element, and ways to minimise and/or eliminate the risks need to be developed. Typically, this will require the development of standard operating procedures that are specifically developed for the monitoring tasks, the allocation and approval of specialised PPE for some tasks, and detailed task safety assessments for each new monitoring task. In all cases, it is important to address the real safety issues for the monitoring task and not rely on standard site practices that might not be appropriate.

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