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Analysis

Official Mexican Safety Norms

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 17:42

The reform of the Federal Labor Law included a chapter dedicated to the observance of occupational health and safety procedures in mines, specifically within coal mines. The whole industry, however, is already liable for the compliance with these measures, for every new article in the new law is based on existing safety norms. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS) is the government entity in charge of the design, promulgation and enforcement of the Mexican Official Norms (NOMs) that deal with labor safety in mines. Through the National Advisory Committee for Workplace Health and Safety (Coconasht) - an autonomous tripartite organ presided over by the STPS - all changes to the existing normative body are discussed and designed while taking the needs of every sector into account. Out of the 41 NOMs regulating health and safety procedures in the workplace that were in force as of 2012, two deal specifically with the mining industry:

NOM-023-STPS-2012: UNDERGROUND AND OPEN PIT MINES - HEALTH AND SAFETY CONDITIONS AT WORK

An amplified and restructured version of its 2003 predecessor (NOM-023-STPS-2012: Labor in mines – Workplace health and safety conditions), this norm provides a concrete definition of several safety procedures that must be followed in mines, such as rock scaling. It touches almost every aspect of mining activities, such as fire prevention and control, movement and handling of explosives, excavations, movement of workers, transportation of materials, electrical installations, vehicles, floors and roads, cutting, and welding. Risk analysis procedures are highly detailed in this latest version of the norm. Furthermore, this regulation specifies and complements existing safety conditions at productive open pit and underground mines, with the aim of diminishing workers’ exposure to elements of risk, depending on the specific operative aspects of each mine. It provides obligation for both types of operations, such as a minimum level of safety equipment, authorization processes that must be followed, and training requirements. The subsequent organization of this legal document, with individual chapters depending on mine type, has the objective of furthering the understanding of safety requirements and facilitating their compliance.

One of the main dispositions mentioned in this NOM is the obligation to build a shelter inside underground mines, thus providing a safe refuge for employees in the case of fires or cave-ins. Another important requirement for underground mines is the establishment of monitoring systems for the assessment of exposure to sound, temperature, vibration, and chemical pollutants. Additionally, the norm compels underground mines to establish access controls, together with a registry of any person who either enters or exits the mine. In the case of open pit mines, the norm advances Mexico’s adherence to the recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) regarding these types of mining complexes. It establishes certain requirements for exploitation methods, heights, sign-posting and soil stability. This chapter also includes a list of conditions that could result in the suspension of operations at open pit mines. The NOM023-STPS-2012 is in force in mining exploration, exploitation, and beneficiation projects nationwide.

NOM-032-STPS-2008 (MODIFIED IN 2011): SAFETY MEASURES FOR UNDERGROUND COAL MINES

This norm includes chapters related to the handling of explosives, ventilation, electrical installations, cutting and welding, fire prevention and protection, instantaneous monitoring of methane gas emissions, excavations, structure fortification, flooding, transportation of personnel, and movement of materials inside underground coal mines. Special dispositions for small scale coal mining units are included in this NOM, such as the existence of an emergency exit through an additional vertical shaft, and the inclusion of ventilation systems. Methane gas monitoring systems and controllers must also be installed in mine galleries, ventilation ducts, and abandoned areas, in addition to the industry requirement of monitoring levels of this gas in other areas of the mine. This norm provides a legal framework for the use of verification units that must prove the compliance with all safety and health requirements. The NOM allows coal mining companies to hire their verification units, or to establish a certified unit themselves. The regulation also specifies that the results of these verifications are valid for a year, after which another evaluation must be performed.

The STPS has announced many more NOMs regarding many aspects of occupational safety, ranging from machinery operation to fire prevention and the storage and transportation of hazardous material. Every mining company must ascertain that these norms are being followed in order to prevent fines or the suspension of operations due to a failure to comply.