Mine Safety Engineer

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Mine Safety Engineer


Mining can be a dangerous career associated with many health and safety hazards. That is why mine safety engineers are such an important part of the mining industry. Without their safety programs and procedures, there would undoubtedly be more accidents than already occur. Mines are in open pits or deep underground, filled with dust, poor ventilation and toxic fumes, amongst other problems. Clearly, the goal of the mine safety engineer is to eliminate all safety and health risks; however this is no easy task. Mine safety engineers promote and enforce mine safety and health by developing mine safety standards, policies, guidelines and regulations. They use their knowledge of mine design and practices to ensure the safety of workers, they inspect walls and roof surfaces, test air samples and examine mining equipment for compliance with government safety regulations.

Mine safety engineers are obliged to teach all miners safe working practices such as how to avoid back injury and proper entry and exit procedures. They must require that all workers wear proper safety protection clothing and equipment such as hard hats, goggles, gloves, safety lamps, steel-toe boots, safety belts, harnesses, and earmuffs or plugs for ear drum protection. Mine safety engineers must counsel employees on how to deal with heat stress, fatigue, cramps and hygiene issues related to heat, such as rashes or "prickly heat". They encourage drinking water and wearing oxygen and gas masks when working in areas that contain toxic gases and plants. They must also educate and try and prevent common illnesses amongst miners, such as pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (which also happens to be the longest word in the English language); a disease of the lungs caused by inhaling dust particles. Many miners lose their lungs from this preventable disease.

Mine safety engineers must continually perform atmospheric tests and monitor the air flow, oxygen content, flammability rates and toxic contaminants in the air. Accordingly, too many accidents and deaths occur because of unsafe electrical wiring, unsteady ladders and vehicle accidents. Therefore, they must inspect and monitor areas such as brake systems on moving vehicles, gas and dust explosions, fires, electrocutions, and prevent workers from falling off ladders and elevated walkways. By supervising the safety levels of these potential problem areas, major and minor accidents and unnecessary deaths can be prevented.

Mine safety engineers use traditional and computer-aided design (CAD) systems to design mining safety operations that analyze the effects and potential problems of certain safety methods. They are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in the mining field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Mine safety engineers must be devoted to the health and safety of miners. Therefore they are usually sympathetic, socially oriented people. They have excellent communication and interpersonal skills because they constantly deal with miners, technicians, scientists and clients. They should have a natural aptitude for mathematics and science (especially chemistry and physics) and be able to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings, which is not an easy task.

Mine safety engineers should be able to make quick, logical decisions, adapt from an office environment to a laboratory or mine site and be able to supervise and lead others.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Apply theories and techniques of mining safety engineering
  • Study and advise miners on the safety methods and procedures of underground or open-pit mining areas
  • Determine hazardous conditions, such as unsafe timbers, cribbing, roof bolts, electric wiring, lifts, explosives storage, equipment and working conditions
  • Advise on procedures for examining walls and roof surfaces for evidence of strata faults indicating core-in or rock-slide hazards
  • Test air quality to detect concentrations of toxic gases and explosive dusts, using safety lamps, methane detectors, carbon monoxide registers and anemometers
  • Recommend alteration or installation of ventilation shafts, partitions or equipment to remedy inadequate air circulation
  • Apply principles of mining engineering and human engineering to design protective equipment and safety devices for mine machinery
  • Advise on the training of mine personnel to use accepted mining practices designed to prevent accidents
  • Administer first aid in case of accidents
  • Study explosions, fires and accidents and identify causes and recommend remedial action to prevent recurrence
  • Mine safety engineers usually split their working time between the office, the laboratory and on-site at mines. At mine-sites, they are required to wear protective equipment such as safety boots, gloves, hard hats, glasses and hearing protection and require that all employees wear the same gear. They may also work in enclosed or high spaces, conducting experiments, which can often be hot, tiring, dirty and dusty. Since most mines are located in remote locations, mine safety engineers must be prepared to travel and fly in and out to on-site work. Mine safety engineers generally work nine- to 10-hour days and approximately 50-hour weeks. Longer hours and weekend shifts will be required when deadlines are approaching.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Mine safety engineers often work where mineral deposits are located -- commonly near small isolated communities. However, mine safety engineers can also commute from a city by plane to the site. Also, those engaged in research, design, management, consulting or sales may work in metropolitan areas. Mine safety engineers are most commonly employed by mining, metal, non-metal and coal companies, governments, equipment manufacturers, consulting companies, engineering contractors, research facilities and universities.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced mine safety engineers may decide to set up their own consulting businesses or pair up with geological and metallurgical engineers and open up a large consulting firm that specializes in mining, safety and other gems. They can also become construction contractors, safety inspectors in other disciplines, business mining analysts, geologists, move into a new specialty area of engineering or become instructors at a postsecondary institution with further education.

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics and science. Most university programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Mine safety engineers require a bachelor's degree in mining engineering or in a related engineering field. Then, they must also become registered as a professional engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some engineers also get master's degrees in a specific area, such as geological engineering.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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Clarkson UniversityColorado School of MinesDalhousie University
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