Electricity often remains underestimated within the mining industry, where safety measures face an uphill battle to keep up with advancing technology.

It’s an inherently perilous occupation, with the constant threat of collisions, explosions, cave-ins, flooding, and accidents involving heavy machinery. However, lurking in the shadows is an unseen menace: electricity. A loose wire or malfunctioning conductor can unleash thousands of high-voltage shocks, and even a single spark can wreak havoc in an environment laden with flammable dust, gas, and accelerants.

Electricity powers a wide array of equipment, from tools and lighting to vehicles and machinery. While typically a dependable energy source, the unpredictable and rapidly changing conditions in mines demand heightened caution. Electricity follows the path of least resistance, even if that means coursing through the air or a human body. Awareness and comprehension prior to an incident are paramount.

A current requires a complete circuit, bringing grounding into play. However, in dusty or humid environments, grounding alone might not suffice to safeguard a worker. This necessitates mine operators going the extra mile, not only by educating workers about potential hazards but also by minimizing electrical risks before work commences.

Australians benefit from stringent safety standards and regulations that help keep incidents to a minimum. Nevertheless, accidents still occur, particularly when using electrical tools in damp conditions. Underground mining faces heightened vulnerability due to unavoidable elements such as dust and water ingress, increasing the risk of major electrical faults. This issue demands the attention of mine sites across the country.

In 2021–22, the Western Australian Department of Mines, Industry Regulations, and Safety reported 601 notifiable incidents of electric shocks on mine sites. While only four injuries were minor, 88 of these incidents had “strong potential” to result in injury. Hence, the impact of electrical incidents should not be underestimated; even a small shock can have grave consequences. Apart from burns, electric shocks can trigger seizures, breathing difficulties, and even cardiac arrest, with some effects potentially permanent.

To raise awareness and discuss methods of reducing electrical incidents, conferences and seminars are held annually for mine workers. New South Wales hosts the Electrical Engineering Safety Seminar, while Queensland has the Queensland Mining Industry Health and Safety Conference. However, the largest electrical safety think tank is found in Australia’s mining capital.

The Mine Electrical Safety Conference held in Western Australia in November 2023 featured more than 40 exhibitors delivering technical presentations to representatives from government departments, consultants, suppliers, and key industry decision-makers. In 2023, the conference focused specifically on arc flashes, a phenomenon far more complex than a simple short circuit.

While people recognize that electricity poses a significant risk to workers, shocks, and burns represent just the tip of the iceberg. Arc flashes occur when an electric current deviates from its intended path due to a fault, leading to an uncontrollable explosive burst. This results in an explosion with temperatures soaring up to 19,000°C, hotter than the sun’s surface.

Moreover, an arc flash unleashes a projectile pressure exceeding 1100km/h, more than sufficient to hurl a worker across a room. Workers need to understand numerous factors contributing to arc flashes, including improper connections and airborne dust. Such conditions are challenging to avoid on a mine site without proper precautions.

So, what’s being done?

Every Australian state and territory maintains stringent standards for electrical safety. Western Australia and New South Wales have the Electricity Act 1945, while Queensland has the Electrical Safety Act 2002. Victoria follows the Electricity Safety Act 1998, and the Northern Territory adheres to the Electricity Reform Act 2000. Nonetheless, substantial changes can occur in 20 years, let alone 80. Mining technology advances daily, with increasing reliance on electricity, especially as operators shift towards less emissions-intensive power sources.

While technology evolves, electrical safety hinges on individuals having the knowledge and accountability to ensure safe operations, necessitating corresponding legislative updates. Amendments to various electrical acts are regularly introduced. For instance, the Queensland Government is considering 83 recommendations for its Act. However, it falls upon mines to uphold these practices.

Staying current is imperative. Mine operators must routinely review their electrical safety plans, adjusting them based on live mine conditions. WA’s safety and health snapshot revealed that 28% of mine managers had not provided a written summary of responsibilities and duties concerning electrical safety. Additionally, 31% of entries in electrical logbooks were incomplete.

Industry leader Rio Tinto considers such practices unacceptable and is taking comprehensive measures to enhance electrical safety, including addressing arc flashes. Their priority is the elimination of risk, ensuring task and equipment-specific competency standards, and procedures for all electrical work. Rio Tinto conducts regular equipment inspections, provides specific electrical safety training to workers before they set foot on-site, and mandates training updates.

They have also established a framework in their electrical safety standard to minimize the risk of electrical incidents when incorporating new or modified equipment onto their sites. This includes clear guidelines on personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements and on-the-job vigilance.

Given that coal mines are particularly susceptible to electrical incidents, Glencore, another prominent miner, has implemented rigorous standards for assessing electrical incident risks before work commences. They continually monitor controls between check-ups, emphasizing PPE and ongoing electrical safety refresher courses.

In the bustling, noisy, and hot environment of mine sites, robust processes are essential to mitigate risk, demanding unity among all stakeholders. Hence, when it comes to electrical safety on mine sites, effective governance is pivotal to safeguarding workers, whether through mine operators’ actions or legislators’ readiness to adapt to an industry just beginning its journey into electrification.


Dust suppression is a critical issue in the world of mining and resources.

Learn more about GRT’s industry-leading and IoT-connected SMART Dosing Units, and discover how we’re driving better dust suppression solutions for all!

If you’d like to talk with an expert, simply contact us!

Your feedback is important to us. 

If you enjoyed reading this Global Road Technology industry update and found it informative, please let us know by leaving a REVIEW.