Lighting the Way to Mine Safety

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Although the modern mining industry has always been well regulated in terms of safety, what has been evident is the increased tolerance and acceptability of sub-standard and hazardous lighting systems being used in underground mining. 

Following the global financial crash in 2009, reducing costs and meeting budget constraints became major focuses for industrial operations. With the global mining sector representing more than 45% of the global GDP, there is no doubt that a considerable impact was felt in this industry and the results of that impact can still be seen in many operations nearly a decade later. 

All who are actively involved in underground mining would agree that safety and lighting go hand in hand, and that poor lighting will definitively result in a multitude of negative effects on the human body. From poor morale, to reduced sight and increased confusion, the need for adequate lighting simply cannot be understated when examining impact on both personnel and production. 

Mine Lighting and Safety

A history of tight operational budgets has produced a status quo resulting in the procurement of cheap light bulbs with limited lifespans, resulting in maintenance nightmares and unacceptable lighting systems. In poorly lit environments, even seemingly simple things like changing light bulbs and repairing fixtures are actually quite hazardous.

Contributing to the hazard is vision problems in aging adults. The average mine worker is 43.3 years old. Aging eyes are adversely affected by light color, light distribution and glare. When you take these factors into consideration, lighting becomes incredibly important in mining.

In addition to their long life and durability in harsh environments, specialized LED strip lighting systems add safety benefits like improving visual acuity for the detection of trip and fall hazards.

Here are three reasons why investing in LED lighting can help mining companies improve safety.

1. Durable in Tough Environments

Conventional light sources like incandescent, fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) suffer frequent burnouts and require more maintenance. LEDs provide a robust alternative designed to withstand high vibrations. They don’t have a glass envelope or filament to fatigue or break. LEDs also reduce the possibility of injury when they replace HID lamps. Some HID lamps can suffer an inner arc tube rupture at the end of life, resulting in molten glass showering people and property below. 

LED is readily available in lower voltages, for example, 12 to 48 volts DC. Low voltage makes these a great option for mobile equipment lighting. For a safer, more durable option, LED is a miner’s best bet.

2. Don’t Get Left in the Dark

For mining personnel, a well-lit space is crucial. Blackouts bring mining operations to a standstill and present serious safety hazards. LEDs provide ease of mind for workers and administrators alike because they typically do not “burn out.” Instead, the amount of light produced decreases. LEDs have a “useful life.”  This is defined as the point when the LED device produces 70 percent of its original light output. By choosing LED, you’ll seldom have to worry about sudden outages in a mine.

LEDs, unlike HID light fixtures, come on instantly. Many HID lamps require a 20-minute warm-up period before they reach full illumination. LEDs shine brightly from the moment you flip a switch.

3. Longer Life Means Less Maintenance

Mining operations often operate 24 hours a day. Filament sources typically operate between 1,000 and 4,000 hours. Fluorescent and HID lamps usually last 20,000 hours. LED lamps that replace incandescent lamps typically have a useful life of 15,000-25,000 hours. LEDs found in retrofit kits and fixtures have a useful life of 100,000 hours or more. The longer life of LEDs means less maintenance. That’s good news for worker safety since most light-related mining accidents occur during maintenance.

Predicting life expectancy varies significantly between conventional light sources and LED. When we say a conventional light source like incandescent lasts 4,000 hours that means half of the lamps will fail by that time. This is considered a lamp’s rated average life. Use LED for a longer lamp life that reduces maintenance and decreases worker exposure to slip and fall hazards.

Safe and Sound

Upgrading safety lighting in a mine can significantly reduce injuries, fatalities and health hazards, proving that LED is a valuable mining resource. As the mining industry continues to change, keep safety top-of-mind to sustain a successful business with happy, healthy personnel.

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Article originally published Dec 14, 2016, and updated for accuracy and relevance.