Mining companies need to continue educating their employees about the dangers of alcohol consumption before or during work hours, as many are not aware of or do not appreciate the safety risks this might pose for themselves, their colleagues and their employers, urges alcohol testing equipment supplier Alcohol Breathalysers GM Angus MacArthur.
He states that many mining companies experience difficulties, particularly on Monday mornings, with workers who consumed large amounts of alcohol over the weekend.
“Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, many workers are not aware of the amount of liquor that is still in their system from the night before. This needs to be dealt with through visible awareness and education about alcohol testing,” says MacArthur.
A high level of alcohol in the body affects vision, reaction speed and coordination. Workers will be unable to operate machinery or drive vehicles, as they would be a hazard to themselves and their fellow workers.
To help combat this problem, many mines use Alcohol Breathalysers’ Alcoscan Entrance Breathalyser System (EBS) with fuel cell sensor technology, which tests workers for any alcohol that might be in their system before they enter the work site.
MacArthur notes that the average human body can only process one unit of alcohol an hour and workers who consume more pose a safety risk at the workplace.
The automated EBS helps enforce zero tolerance of alcohol at the workplace and does not require any human operation.
MacArthur says this is an advantage, as there is no room for human error or accusations of victimisation or discrimination. All workers are tested through the EBS.
Companies will also save on costs, as there will be no need for security personnel to conduct the tests.
MacArthur suggests that the breathalysers be connected to turnstiles at the entrance of workplaces.
He emphasises that the EBS is not a tool for the dismissal of workers, but rather a tool to ensure compliance with health and safety regulations.
The EBS allows companies to adhere to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which states that “an employer or user, as the case may be, shall not permit any person who is or who appears to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, to enter, or remain at, a workplace”.
Workers are requested to identify themselves at the workplace with a fingerprint, palm print or retina scan, depending on which time keeping system is in place. They then blow into the EBS and wait for the result. A pass allows the turnstile to open and a fail prevents access and registers on the system.
MacArthur says workers who fail the test are given a second opportunity to test with a handheld machine or a machine with a printer. Should the worker fail the second test, the employer will initiate the necessary disciplinary procedures.
The EBS is used by diamond producer De Beers and diversified miner Anglo American Platinum’s Rustenburg base metals refinery (RBMR).
MacArthur reveals that, after almost two years of using the EBS, the alcohol test failure rates at sites are almost zero.
Trials at De Beers were concluded in late 2010 and the company is currently using the latest version of the EBS.
Further, he says the EBS has managed to cope with more than double the tests originally expected.
“We thought the machine could handle 5 000 tests in one calibration cycle, but we have seen that they can handle up to 12 000 tests. “The machine still produced accurate results, even after its accuracy was checked after 12 000 tests. “This is a great achievement in terms of the success of the implementation of the device,” he enthuses.
The EBS is manufactured by a South Korean company Sentech Corporation and is imported to South Africa for distribution by Alcohol Breathalysers.
MacArthur says the cost and technical requirements to manufacture the machines locally are substantial and he believes there is no established industry in South Africa for the production of the fuel cell technology that is used to make the machine.
The electrochemical fuel cell sensor technology is preferred by many companies, as it checks only for ethanol. In comparison, semiconductor alcohol sensors may detect substances such as cigarette smoke, menthol, sugar and mouth alcohol.
The electrochemical fuel cell sensors in the EBS have longer calibration cycles and do not produce false positive results.
MacArthur notes that installations come with challenges, for example, condensation had begun to form in a number of EBS machines during winter, as a result of the moist human breath and bitterly cold air at RBMR. To combat the challenge, extraction fans were added to the bases of the units to extract the exhaled breath, eliminating the condensation.
Alcohol Breathalysers plans to release a weatherproof version of the EBS, with a plastic casing to protect it from harsh weather conditions.
Further, the company notes that hundreds of engineering companies in South Africa are making use of hand-held alcohol breathalysers, owing to the smaller number of staff on site, compared with the number of employees on mines.