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Reducing exposure to silica during blasting

This innovative project at Escondida reduces potential exposure to silica, an agent known to be carcinogenic to humans. The solution is easy to replicate, has very low installation and maintenance costs, does not impact productivity and improves the work environment.

BHP sets an occupational exposure limit (OEL) for respirable crystalline silica to prevent the development of occupational illness (such as silicosis or cancer). This project includes several initiatives that successfully reduce potential exposure to below the OEL, reducing the reliance on respirators that are in place to protect employee health by controlling to the OEL. The most effective control measure is dust abatement using atomisers fed from water tanks installed on earth-moving machinery. The atomisers operate as the blasting agents are unloaded into the boreholes in the blasting platforms, spraying a water mist directly over the source of the silica-containing dust. This decreases the dust, reducing potential exposure to silica by between 51 and 66 per cent and significantly improving the work environment for operators.

Following the effectiveness of the project in reducing potential silica exposure, water abatement of dust is now a technical specification for machinery used for blasting at Escondida, and the approach is being shared across the Company