Visual Communication


May 1, 2012

Good signage can help keep work environments safe in mines and quarries.

By Martin Carter

No matter how well a mine or quarry has attended to safety, going through a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), or WorkSafe BC inspection is a bear.

Why? Because a safe working environment is the mine site’s responsibility — even if headquarters is in Canada, Australia, or the United States.

Safety and budget-conscious mines like Barrick, headquartered in Toronto; Teck Coal with headquarters in Vancouver and operations in Hinton, Sparwood, Elkford, and Millertown; and Rio Tinto with a head office in Montreal, Quebec, all create safety labels on-site with thermal transfer printers — satisfying both CSA and WorkSafe BC— to keep operations running smoothly.

JoAnne Thomas is the dewatering compliance technician for Barrick Gold Corp.’s Cortez Mine which employs more than 1,000 people. Barrick is the world’s largest gold producer with a portfolio of 26 operating mines.

A big believer in mine safety, Thomas offered several observations. She explained that safety signs are used in heap leach and dewatering areas, as well as water lines, shut offs, meter locations, diesel, no smoking, and low head spaces.

“We are regularly inspected by MSHA. I think we all appreciate the insight MSHA inspections provide,” she said. “Our one and only safety challenge is every person going home safe and healthy every day.”

Providing clear information and signage is part of the safety program for Barrick. Thomas personally uses a label printer almost daily. Crew members come to her with label requests. She creates the labels, and the crew members do the labeling.

“I find it very rewarding to work directly with crews. Being able to get the information and the equipment they need as quickly as possible is wonderful,” she said.

Mine and quarry equipment operators, mill operators, and maintenance personnel face dangers every day, but traditional safety sign ordering methods are costly and too slow to make an immediate impact on safety.

Many environmental, health, and safety managers dig through thick catalogs in search of just the right sign with the correct dimensions, colors, and regulatory compliant language. Requisitions slow the process further.

Ordering custom signs from sign shops can be expensive and slow — especially for delivery to remote locations. It might take weeks to receive them. This process hinders getting signs up quickly or even at all, especially when 20 or 30 signs must be purchased to get a price break when only a couple are needed.

The good news? Thermal transfer printers may be ordered directly and delivered overnight to remote sites. Immediately, all the signs and labels necessary can be created, and they will perform anywhere in and around the mine. Thermal transfer printers use heat to “bake” graphics and text onto vinyl and other supplies which have been tested to perform under the most demanding conditions.

“A major safety concern for us is posting signs on entry and exit doors,” said Steve Unti, safety manager, Teck Coal. “We also create our own machine operation labels and electrical box labels in the mines. In the future, I see us labeling all our movable equipment with control stickers and using preprinted sign stock for safety area warnings, equipment operation, and equipment lock out-tag out procedures, all being done with one printer.”

If no local labeling standards exist, it is recommended to use existing ANSI, OSHA, and NFPA standards. Lettering on pipe labels should have a minimum height and length size that changes based on the outside diameter of the pipe, including casing, insulation, or covering. Labels should be positioned on the pipes so they can be easily read from ground level.

Identifying pipe labels with different color tape based on pipe contents is also a requirement. Color choices are based on flammability, corrosive/toxic, combustible, fire quenching, and compressed air. Arrows indicating flow direction are placed before and after the text. These colors give quick reference for maintenance and fire crews. Upstream or downstream vessels or machine identification numbers can be used to further clarify pipe contents. It is recommended to include the line number or individual markings on the label, as this will allow easy cross reference for future maintenance.

Signs and labels impact every inch of a mine or quarry. There’s a good chance traffic signs, facility signs, no smoking/cell phone signs, mine permit boundary signs, and identification tags for exploration, as well as valve tags and Arc Flash NFPA70E signs, will be needed.

Marking tools with colors, numbers, and barcodes reduces theft and loss, and color-marking hard hats and equipment to differentiate shifts and departments keeps people, as well as tools, in their sector. When short-term electrical outages occur, signs that are visible in the dark help people find their way.

Generic signs don’t cut it

Signs and labels that are site specific to company policy make all the difference for new hires, visitors, and subcontractors. Multilingual signs support a global workplace encompassing Africa, Europe, Australia, Asia, and North and South America.

“Generic signs just don’t meet our needs,” said Heather Renton, wash plant maintenance, Peace River Coal, Tumbler Ridge, BC, Canada. “Creating our own labels makes us look good and saves us thousands of dollars.”

Call it the autonomy of the label printer. Each mine or quarry controls when and how frequently to create signs and labels. If employees see an accident waiting to happen, they can zip right back to the office, print out a sign, and post it on the spot. No waiting for approval. No paperwork to fill out. No injury…or worse. AM

Martin Carter has been providing safety solutions to mining companies throughout Canada, North America, Africa, and Australia for over eight years. As the global mining manager for Graphic Products, Inc., he is a strategist and consultant working directly with mine safety managers to customize and implement safety identification programs that meet compliance requirements while improving mine communications and security. He can be reached at, or at 800-788-5572, ext. 5683.

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