Improve your operational risk control

February 11th, 2020

Danielle Hewettby Danielle Thompson-Hewitt

Reducing and eliminating HSE risks in mineral processing

Mineral processing is a hazardous activity. Heavy materials, toxic chemicals, and extreme temperatures are all commonly used in metal production.

Operations have long implemented controls to make these processes as safe as possible. Despite the resources sector investing significant time, attention and funds to minimise HSE risks, our industry is still yet to achieve the goal of zero harm.

Implementing engineering controls is an often straight-forward procedure that can make high-risk processes significantly safer. However, the complexity of the science associated with many processes can make an engineering solution seem unachievable in some circumstances.

This can leave operations little choice but to rely on lower level safety controls (administrative and personal protective equipment, PPE) as the main form of hazard minimisation.

The fewer the risks, the harder they are to mitigate

While administrative and PPE controls are important, they are also ‘common sense’ controls. Their success relies on people, materials, and machinery all behaving as expected (which we all know, cannot be guaranteed). Without a physical, externally controlled barrier, the risk of fatality and injury increase. (While rarer than they once were, they still occur more than they should.)

This is all made harder by the fact that implementing safety measures that will actively reduce HSE risks is more difficult now than it ever was. The steps to reduce the number of incidents from the hundreds or thousands per year a few decades ago, to now reducing them from dozens to none, are significantly different.

Today’s challenges are harder to solve, which means they require more research and development – something many operations don’t always have the time or capability to carry out in-house.

Take a copper refinery as an example. They use large electrical currents that carry the risk of electrocution if the current leaks out via an alternate, unintended path. Ideally, a refinery would upgrade their engineering controls (in this situation, the introduction of better maintenance or systems to prevent the current from flowing along unintended paths)

That’s not a simple task; there’s significant science behind understanding this challenge. It requires expertise to determine the paths that the current is flowing along, and what parameters influence its flow along each of these paths. Not all operations have the internal expertise to develop the controls necessary to resolve this challenge, meaning they are unable to reduce electrocution risks in the most effective way.

This is but one example of a hazardous situation that can prove difficult to control (or actively reduce the risk of) if we do not take the time to understand the science underpinning the associated operational process.

Out-of-the-box thinking can lead to a better solution

  • Determine situations where a risk could be reduced by an engineering control.
    • starting with the most significant hazards, consider which of these is heavily dependent on administrative and PPE controls alone
  • Implement engineering controls for identified hazards where possible
    • determine the viability of implementing engineering controls for the identified hazards using internal skills and knowledge.

If this is not possible:

  • form a diverse taskforce inclusive of both internal and external experts.
    • if there have been previous, unsuccessful attempts to implement an engineering control, you might like to consider the inclusion of external experts who understand the underpinning science. (This understanding might not be available in your operational setting, e.g. electronics, physics, chemistry).

As our operations face new risks and require more complex controls (to further reduce incidents and accidents), our industry is going to require creative thinking and experience not with just traditional solutions, but creating new ones. A diverse team not only generates more solutions, but more valuable solutions.

In addition, working with an external provider who has had previous success in the area can help you achieve your desired outcome faster, cheaper and with better results.

Use the diversity of CSIRO to uncover new solutions to HSE risks

CSIRO has multi-disciplinary science and engineering expertise, facilities, and the ability to involve different capabilities than those traditionally used to develop HSE solutions.

In particular, we have unique and robust experience with:

  • designing, constructing and operating novel pilot and demonstration scale plants and rigs
  • managing associated HSE risks, and
  • developing engineering controls for industrial operations (e.g. our work to improve electrowinning to reduce acid mist).

We collaborate with operations to ensure the best outcomes, and offer deeper investigation that leads to not only improved safety controls, but a greater understanding of the science that underpins operational processes and how to optimise them.

If you’re finding it increasingly difficult to implement engineering controls that actively reduce your operation’s HSE risks using your in-house skills and capabilities, I believe we are uniquely positioned to assist you as you strive towards achieving zero harm.

Contact the team on +61 8 9334 8094 or email me,, to discuss how our expertise and experience can help you.

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