Respiratory Protection for Surface Miners

Respiratory Protection for Surface Miners

Surface mining work presents a host of risks, and airborne contaminants can be one of the most dangerous. Contaminants in the air create respiratory hazards that can lead to severe and even fatal illness.

In the surface mining industry, silicosis is one of the most common respiratory ailments among workers, killing about 100 people every year. Silicosis is a lung disease that occurs when silica dust- a component of sand, rock and mineral ore- is inhaled. Silicosis can cause a buildup of scar tissue and fluid in the lungs, resulting in slow suffocation.

Airborne Contaminants at Surface Mines

In addition to silica, airborne contaminants at surface mining sites include coal dust, diesel particulate matter, and radioactive particles like uranium, thorium and radium.

Contaminants can enter the air as dust, but also take the form of mist, vapor, gas, and fumes. Here are some examples, by category:


Airborne contaminants on surface mining sites can be lethal. And the diseases they can cause, like silicosis, are sometimes incurable. In order to live a long and healthy life, it’s so important to be proactive and take steps to prevent exposure to airborne contaminants on the job site. One way to protect against airborne contaminants is through the use of respirators.

Respirators are a type of personal protective equipment designed to prevent workers from inhaling airborne contaminants. They can save lives when used properly.

There are two main types of respirator: air-purifying respirators and supplied-air respirators. Air-purifying respirators filter contaminants out of the air. While handy for protecting against some airborne contaminants, air-purifying respirators should not be used in atmospheres that are oxygen-deficient or highly toxic.

Supplied-air respirators (SARs), on the other hand, provide clean and fresh air from an uncontaminated source.

Air-Purifying Respirators:

Dust Mask: Dust mining masks are designed to capture particles such as dusts, mists, and fumes when the wearer inhales. It cannot protect against gases and vapors.

Half-Face: Half-face respirators cover only the nose and mouth. This type of respirator is outfitted with cartridges that filter out contaminants when you inhale. The cartridges are designed to capture specific particulate contaminants, gas contaminants, or a combination of both.

Full-Face: Full-face respirators cover the nose, mouth, eyes, and face. Full-face mining masks are especially useful under conditions where air contaminants are present that can cause eye irritation. Similar to the half-face mask, this type of respiratory protection has cartridges that filter out contaminants to prevent you from inhaling specific particulate contaminants, gas contaminants, or a combination of both.

Positive-Pressure: A positive-pressure, air-purifying respirator (PAPR) uses a portable, battery-powered fan to draw fresh air into a filtering cartridge and then push the filtered air into the respirator’s face piece.

Supplied-Air Respirators (SARs):

Supplied-air respirators (SARs) provide a higher level of protection than air-purifying respirators.

SARs come with different air source and airflow features. Breathable air may be provided via a long hose connected to a freestanding tank of compressed air, or may be self-contained in a compressed-air cylinder that is carried by the wearer. Airflow can be either continuous flow, meaning a constant flow of air is forced into the face piece, or pressure-demand, meaning air is supplied only when the user inhales.

Choosing Your Respiratory Device

When choosing the right breathing apparatus for your specific job, first consider the following:

Nature of the Respiratory Hazard: Evaluate factors such as the physical and chemical properties of the hazard, the concentration of contaminants in the air, and the relevant exposure limits.

Effectiveness Level Required: Determine the respirator’s effectiveness rating, the permissible level of exposure, and the maximum concentration of any contaminant that a specific respirator can provide adequate protection against.

Nature of the Work: Think about what tasks you need to accomplish while wearing the respirator, as well as any sources of physical or environmental stress that might be present during those tasks.

Individual Needs: Think about your needs with regard to fit and feature preferences, as well as physical needs and limitations.

Safety Training Teaches Skills for Respiratory Safety

HSI’s Online Safety Training MSHA Self Rescue & Respiratory Devices course addresses the requirements stated in MSHA regulations Parts 56/57 Subpart D – Air Quality, Radiation, and Physical Agents. The purpose of the lesson is to provide mining contractors with an awareness of how they may use respiratory devices or breathing apparatus to prevent chronic, acute, and immediately life threatening exposures to respiratory hazards.

Safety training is a must when it comes to protecting yourself from respiratory hazards. It provides you with the knowledge needed to stay safe on the job.

Occupational safety training often works best when it incorporates different types of media, like video, music, 3D graphics, and games. These features help the employee retain lifesaving information. When you combine material on regulations and safe practices with entertaining aspects like games, knowledge checks, and interactive storytelling, workers have an easier time recalling safety concepts on the job.

Miners work is dangerous and presents respiratory health risks, but with occupational safety training, you can reduce the number of accidents and illnesses on the job site.

Learn more about mining safety.

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