Here’s how to manage odours in mining

During the process of harvesting natural resources in mining sites, a broad range of chemical agents is used to help facilitate the process. The simple act of using chemical agents alongside the extraction of minerals and compounds that have been pressurised over time causes the issue of offensive odours being emitted throughout the mining site.

After all, smelly air is not a foreign concept to miners with nicknames such as “stinkdamp” placed on hydrogen sulphide due to its smell resembling rotten eggs.

Although odour may not be a major concern for an employer who often looks at figures over conditions, there is an obligation for all employers to implement occupational, health and safety regulations in the workplace. Mining sites are no different, and an offensive odour may be more sinister than initially assumed.

According to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, “a person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of (a) workers engaged or caused to be engaged by the person; and (b) workers whose activities in carrying out work are influenced or directed by the person; while the workers are at work in the business or undertaking.”

In this case, offensive odours can be severe enough to fall under the category of affecting a worker’s health due to the psychological and physical effect it may have on that person.

A mining company should also be concerned about offensive odours being a breach of any environmental compliance regulations which will be a prominent issue, especially where residential areas are present close to the mining site.

Based on a statement made by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection of Queensland, issues relating to odour are considered an “environmental nuisance” which are regulated by environmental authority conditions. Mining companies are obliged to ensure that environmental nuisances are not caused at a “sensitive place” such as public areas or dwellings.

As much as it is discomforting to inhale stinky odours, the issue may not be as innocent as it appears. There has been mining incidents relating to irritating odours leading to dangerous situations as witnessed in the Northern Territory mine accident which involved the exposure of a poisonous sulphur dioxide gas to 13 workers. The first indication of this exposure was the offensive odour.

The inclusion of odour monitoring systems and services is highly recommended in a mining company’s environmental management plans with crucial importance for customisation of odour treatment and management systems due to the different conditions of each mining site.

Carbon filtration, biofiltration, and spray systems are the most common forms of odour control in mining sites.

Carbon filtration systems are effective in absorbing up to 99% of volatile organic compounds such as hydrogen sulphide gas thus preventing the emission of offensive odours. Biofiltration systems are up to 95% effective in treating toxic gases by humidifying and diffusing them.

According to OdourPro, the most effective spray systems operate on a molecular level as the “reagents attract and neutralise odorous compounds through chemical processes”.

With the advancements in odour management technology reaching a very effective state of control, mining companies are strongly recommended to implement these systems for the health and safety of their workers.

Author: Bulbeck Fire Industries