Working near pit lakes - health and safety considerations

Trevor Ross and CD McCullough

Pit lakes and their surrounding environment represent significant occupational health and safety (OH&S) risks to workers, whether they are on an operational or a relinquished (abandoned) mine site. Employers of staff working near pit lakes have a legal obligation to protect the health and safety of employees and organisations, and project leaders will benefit from improved OH&S reducing costs and increasing productivity.

The most significant acute OH&S risks around pit lakes relate to drowning. Other significant risk are heavy lifting of boats and other equipment, and off-road travel to site. Environmental exposures to extreme hot or cold may also occur where mining sites are located in extreme climates such as tropical, desert or cold-temperate regions. Diving in pit lakes is a particular hazard that should be avoided where possible by using engineering alternatives such as remote sampling devices. Protective personal equipment (PPE) should be a combination of standard field environmental protective clothing, e.g. sun hat and strong footwear, and mine site PPE requirements such as hard hat and long pants/shirt sleeves.

Chronic OH&S risks include inappropriate and sustained physical exertion and health effects from contaminated pit lake water such as elevated metals and metalloids. However, standard water quality contact issues such as pathogenic contamination may be more significant.

A risk-based approach is recommended to address risks, as an intristic component of near pit lake work planning and prior to entering the pit lake environment. This should be understood by all pit lake workers and regularly updated by learnings and other experiences.

Ross, T., & McCullough, C. D. (2011). Health and Safety working around pit lakes. In C. D. McCullough (Ed.), Mine pit lakes: Closure and management (pp. 167-181). Perth, Australia: Australian Centre for Geomechanics.

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Conference paper
Working near pit lakes - health and safety considerations