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Diesel Particulate Risk in WA Mines

Graham Marshall - Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Diesel particulates - tiny carbon particles in diesel exhaust - that have the potential to penetrate deep into the lungs are now listed as carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation's cancer research branch.

And underground mine workers in Western Australia, and elsewhere, may be at higher risk than the rest of the population because the machines they use are diesel-powered.

If exhaust fumes cannot escape mine shafts or mining companies allow poor ventilation, then the risk increases.

In Western Australia, a "top priority" working group chaired by the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy and including the Department of Mines and Petroleum was set up in June 2011, to finalise guidelines for the management of diesel particulates.

As far back as 2004, the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists warned that regulatory bodies in Australia were not treating the issue seriously.

Exhaust filters should be mandatory, better ventilation is a must and air testing should be rigerous.

The WA Mines Department says diesel particulates must not top 0.1 milligrams per cubic metre of submicron elemental carbon, all mines must submit their air quality results, and any that exceed the levels are shut down.

So far this year, inspectors shut down two mines in the WAGoldfields for air quality or ventilation breaches. "The department recognises that exposure to diesel engine emissions should be minimised, which is why the working group is currently developing a new guideline and why we inspect and audit sites," safety executive director Simon Ridge said.

Barrick Gold is one company which now requires underground workers to wear respirators where diesel levels are high.

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