New hazard alert on cyanide use in mining operations

Graphic of PPE for dealing with cyanide

Technical guidance from mining industry advisory committee 

Cyanide Hazard Alert and Information Sheet - download and share

Alerte aux dangers : Connaître les dangers du cyanure - télécharger et partager

To help raise awareness, Workplace Safety North (WSN), in collaboration with its mining advisory committee, has introduced a new hazard alert and information sheet.

“The goal of these new tools is to talk about the potential dangers linked to cyanide use in mining,” says Judit Nelson, WSN Industrial Hygiene Specialist. “The plan is to teach workers, communities, and industry about the risks of cyanide and how to lower the chances of being exposed to it.”

Getting to know cyanide in mining

Cyanide is a chemical widely used in the mining industry for processes like gold and silver extraction. It can pose significant risks to both the environment and human health. 

The hazard alert and information sheet provide a comprehensive overview of potential health effects and safety measures to protect workers.

Sources of cyanide exposure

During the extraction process, cyanide is added to create alkaline water, aiding in the extraction of precious metals. The high concentrations of cyanide in solutions can pose risks to human health and the environment. Also, when pure cyanide is exposed to air, it breaks down into compounds like nitrate, leading to environmental and health problems.

Detailed guidance on safety measures

“The information sheet goes into more detail about using cyanide in mining,” says Nelson. “It’s a guide on how to deal with this chemical safely.”

Cyanide is a quick-acting and possibly deadly chemical that can be a crystal, liquid, or colourless gas. Exposure to cyanide through skin, eyes, and breath can cause symptoms such as agitation, confusion, weakness, headache, nausea, vomiting, respiratory changes, seizures, and coma. 

Small amounts can lead to dizziness, rapid breathing, and weakness, while large amounts may cause convulsions, unconsciousness, respiratory failure, and, ultimately, death. The short-term and long-term effects can include skin and eye irritation, breathing problems, and harm to important organs. 

“To minimize the hazards associated with cyanide exposure, a thorough risk assessment and safety measures are crucial,” says Nelson. “Controlling spillage during transfer and system failures within mine sites is essential. Personal protective equipment, including respirators, chemical-resistant gloves, suits, and eye protection, must be used to ensure worker safety.

“Diagnosing cyanide exposure involves blood and urine tests, although results may only indicate recent exposure. Immediate treatment is recommended if exposure is suspected, as every minute counts. The treatment varies based on the route of exposure – eye contact, skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion – and involves specific actions to minimize harm.”

Impact and what comes next

The new hazard alert and information sheet are an important step to help make mining safer. By presenting technical information in accessible language, the goal is to effectively communicate with diverse audiences, including workers, communities, and industry.

“The next steps involve keeping up education and awareness so everyone connected to mining knows about cyanide risks and can take the right prevention steps,” says Nelson.

The WSN Workplace Environmental Technical Advisory Committee, made up of members from the mining industry as well as technical advisors provided guidance for these resources, along with WSN staff Philip Dirige, Senior Specialist Ground Control, and Judit Nelson, Industrial Hygiene Specialist.

For more information, contact Judit Nelson, WSN Industrial Hygiene Specialist.


Cyanide Hazard Alert and Information Sheet 

French version of hazard alert: Alerte de danger au cyanure : Connaître les dangers du cyanure

Traditional Cyanide antidote kit now off the market in Canada

The Cyanide Code: Voluntary, performance-driven, certification program of best practices for the management of cyanide in gold and silver mining