the database has been greatly extended
since this article was written.
author has maintained a database of demining accidents for four
years. It contains records of many of the explosive accidents
that deminers suffer while going about their work. This article
explains the uses and limitations of the database and the software
developed to contain it.
first published a database of accidents in Humanitarian Demining
in 1998. In my experience, it was unique because it attempted
to contain the source material as well as the conventional spreadsheet
style summaries that characterise most databases. There have
been several releases on CD since 1998 and the latest was recently
completed with backing from UNMAS/GICHD. It was originally called
the Database of Demining Incident Victims (DDIV).
At GICHDs request, the latest
version has been renamed the Database of Demining AccidentS (DDAS).
accident reports (edited for anonymity) are included when possible.
These may include photographs and usually include some medical
details about the victims injuries and treatment.
1999 edition of the DDIV contained details of 319 victims. The
current release contains an additional 160 but also many extensions
to old entries such as medical reports and interviews
concerning the ongoing situation of victims. Some of the additional
data records accidents that happened some time ago. For example,
there is now some data about accidents in the British sector
after the Gulf war (none for other sectors).
has been argued that the database provides a stick with which
to beat the humanitarian demining industry. While it could not
be used to target an individual or demining group, it could
be used to criticise
But only if you subscribe to the
belief that people only learn through pain. It is perfectly
possible to use the lessons that can be derived in a positive
way, as described below.
providing snapshots of activities surrounding accidents,
the database can be used as an introduction to how demining
is actually carried out. This is often at variance with published
SOPs and recent, well detailed records show this clearly. Researchers
developing new equipment have used it, and I recommend its use
when preparing Technical Advisors for field deployment. This
might be especially useful when a TA has experience in one area
and is being sent to another.
from my own papers, research papers based on the database have
been presented by Colonel Alistair McAslan
(ex-GICHD, now Director, Cranfield
Mine Action) and Dr Vernon Joynt (ex-MECHEM,
now CSIR in
a training aid, real events can be used to show the importance
of a whole range of demining rules. These include using adequate
area marking, appropriate tools and detectors, cautious excavation,
Quality Control checks, blast visors, etc. It also provides
salutary lessons over the need for good training, appropriate field control, open management,
appropriate medical and communications equipment, etc. With
real examples, these issues cease to be entirely a matter
demining NGOs have asked for the medical details in the database
for use when training their field medics.
database proved invaluable during the revision of some parts
of the International Standards (IMAS) because the range of opinion
was very broad and based on heartfelt individual experience.
The ability to refer to a broad overview derived from global
experience was useful, especially when the protagonists held
positions of authority and had made previous decisions based
on incomplete knowledge.
this context, reference to the database established the prevalence
of severe hand-injury and showed which mines and demining activities
posed the greatest threat. It also showed that over-protection
with ineffective PPE extras was neither desirable nor necessary.
engenders myths of danger, heroism and the black art.
The database explodes many of the myths and shows how
simple demining actually is. It also shows how multilayered
management remote from the actual work can introduce new dangers
by imposing their ignorance.
most obvious myth that the database exposes in that deminers
lie prone when excavating mines. Even in the few places where
the SOPs demand it, lying prone is so rare that it is certainly
the exception rather than the rule.
most significant, the evidence clearly indicates that deminer
error is an infrequent cause of an accident, and that failures
in the control chain are far more common. When seeking to reduce
the number of accidents and/or the severity of resulting injury,
understanding why accidents occur is essential. When the person
studying the database is a contributory cause, that can be a deeply uncomfortable lesson.
picture on the right shows an accident report opened inside
is never possible to know what information will be needed in
the future. The database provides an archive to ensure that
data is preserved. For example, with the closure of the Kosovo
MACC, their accident investigations would be very hard to access
if they were not included in the DDAS. Also, a dataset of accidents
was recently returned to the MAC in
where the original records had been lost. And in
most of the records that have survived are held in Khmer, so
the DDAS provides an English language translation for those
wanting to learn from past accidents.
database is a useful source of information for managers and
a very relevant training tool for field use. Examples can be
found to support safety requirements that deminers may think
unnecessary, and the reports themselves can be used to promote
best practice in accident investigations. The standard of investigation
varies as much as the experience of those carrying them out,
and frequently an opportunity to learn from mistakes can be
obscured or lost in the reporting procedure.
some demining NGOs requested copies very early on and have issued
the database to field groups as a resource, other famous groups
have failed to cooperate with data acquisition and refused to
accept the most compelling inferences that can be drawn from
the data amassed about their own accidents.
some players in the industry have been less than honest in their
reporting and less than open in sharing experience, the DDAS
cannot be presented as complete. I think that there
are about 65% of the accidents since 1996 in the database, but
I cannot be sure. With records of close to 500 victims, it includes
complete data for some countries in some years,
are examples. The data made available for Kurdish Iraq is sporadic
and was summarised by UNDP before being supplied. Data from
clean-up after the Gulf War is only just becoming available
so the data sometimes stretches back in time. Interestingly,
the patterns that emerge in countries where all data is available
do not differ significantly from patterns based on incomplete
data, so it seems that the inferences can be generally applied.
Certainly, until a more complete dataset is compiled, there
is no reason not to use the best evidence we have while working
to extend it.
some cases, commercial and political interests have led to data
being withheld. To cite a commercial example, it took me more
than four years to get copies of the written reports surrounding
accidents during the trials of a mechanical demining system
Those records include well detailed charts of the staggering
percentage of mines that were not detonated and were left damaged
by the machines, which may explain the protracted secrecy.
example of political interests leading to secrecy
is the fatal accident involving a roller system mounted on a
in the early 1990s. I presume that it is a fear of their
own mistakes being made public that has led the
office of the famous NGO involved to be uncooperative. They
began by insisting that they did not keep records of accidents.
In 1997, they corrected this and said that all their accident
records were hard to find. Two years later they promised that
data on all their accidents would be provided if I gave them
the details of which of their accidents I already knew about.
I did that, but after a further 18 months they have failed to
provide access to records of a single accident. Fortunately
the field officers of that particular NGO are less fearful of
the truth and (outside
have always provided all the records in their possession when
I have gone to knock on their doors.
is only fair to contrast the failures with the successes. Some
MACs and NGOs have made their incident
investigations readily available. The Kosovo MACC was especially
helpful. It made the most thorough investigations on record,
provided them quickly and then carried out follow-up inquiries
over the health of the victims.
if the DDAS is less than perfect because it does not contain
all of the records it could, that problem will only be addressed
when some major players in the industry smarten up their act.
data, new conclusions?
have previously published papers on the conclusions I have drawn
about accidents and their causes. The JMU Journal
of Mine Action , Issue 4.2, Summer 2000, carries an article entitled
The facts on protection needs in humanitarian demining
which I recommend you read http://maic.jmu.edu/journal/index/past.htm
increased number of database entries have very little effect on my previous conclusions. But the incompleteness
of the data means that any statistical analysis based on it
must always be made with informed caution.
records change the ratio between UXO and mine accidents in HD
significantly. But that ratio was never representative because
traditional EOD tasks are often carried out by serving military
who do not carry out independent investigations and do not
make their own accident records available.
rich data stream from the Balkans has changed the balance of
threat mines in HD, but not significantly.
the threat mines as those most frequently involved
in accidents, the current list (April 2002) reads:
accidents in the DDAS
AP Frag 4%
is interesting, but not much help unless you put it alongside
the results of those accidents. For example, the mines/devices
involved in accidents where deaths occurred were:
in demining accidents
AP B/frag 33%
AP Frag 3%
AP blast and AP bounding-fragmentation situation is reversed
with many more deaths from bounding-fragmentation mines than
from AP blast mines. You should also notice that Ordnance, which
only features in 2% of all accidents, causes a significant proportion
figures are also misleading because most of AP bounding
fragmentation mine incidents occur
in the Balkans with a mine that is not a problem in most of
the rest of the world (the PROM-1). Also, most of the AP blast
mine incidents involve the PMN, which does not occur at all
in recorded accidents in the Balkans. It should also be noted
that the majority of the ordnance deaths occurred in
during the post Gulf-war clean up and before any International
safety standards for Humanitarian Demining existed.
make an analysis of injury significant I have had to draw a
distinction between severe injuries and minor
injuries. I define the difference as:
a minor injury is one that does not require surgical intervention
and does not result in long-term disability.
a severe injury is one that results in long-term disability
or requires surgical intervention.
is a fairly crude distinction but I have found it useful.
every accident involved severe injury. Of those that did, the
devices involved were:
injuries in demining accidents
AP B/frag 14%
AP Frag 4%
include deaths which I have assumed always involved severe
you can see that AP blast mines cause by far the most severe
was the victim doing at the time?
during AP blast accidents
Stepping on Missed mine 29%
Vegetation removal 3%
Victim inattention 7%
most common activity at the time of a blast mine accident is
excavating a suspicious area. This may have been found using
a metal detector or a dog, exposed by a machine or may have
been a part of wide area excavation during which the
whole surface of the soil is removed in suspicious areas where
other methods cannot be used.
an excavation accident, the two most common severe injuries
are to the eyes and the hands/arms. The injuries may be the
loss of an eye, fingers, hand or arm or may be the loss
of function in it so leading to permanent disability.
injuries when excavating AP blast mines
a % of all excavation accidents)
of eye or eyes 6.7%
Severe eye 22.7%
Amp fingers 11.5%
Amp Hand 2.2%
Amp Arm 4.1%
Severe arm 6.3%
Severe shoulder 1.9%
Severe hand 16.4%
about 30% of all excavation accidents with AP blast mines
a severe eye injury occurs.
about 42% of all excavation accidents with AP blast mines
a severe injury to a hand or arm occurs.
chest injury occurred in only 3.5% of recorded excavation accidents
and in more than half of those the injury was caused
by parts of the handtool. Severe chest injury is rare
surprisingly, this is true whether or not the victim was wearing
body armour. Many deminers without body armour get away with
detonating an AP blast mine with no body injuries at all. While
I personally like to wear frontal body armour, the database
does not provide compelling evidence of its value in an AP mine
blast. Blast visors in good condition, and purpose designed
demining handtools, do make a noticeable difference.
of the injuries
eye injury results from:
The issue of inappropriate eye protection such as the
industrial safety spectacles that are still widely used;
The issue of visors that cannot be seen through.
The use of visors that are not down at the time of detonation.
The use of old, hard visors that
shatter on blast impact.
hand and arm injury results from:
The use of a short tool meaning that the hand is within 30cm
of the mine when it detonates.
The use of an inappropriate digging method so that the hand
is above the mine when it detonates.
The use of a tool that shatters on detonation and the parts
inflict other injuries.
injury also results from digging incautiously or by devices
that are particularly sensitive, but if the device is an AP
blast mine, the detonation does not generally cause severe injury
unless one or more of the above are also true.
perhaps you will understand why my own particular technology
interests in demining have been visors, handtools, appropriate
PPE and training. The database has helped me to identify the
problems, and sometimes to begin to answer them.
future of the accident database
recently the CD database was unsupported by any organisation
or donor. My last update of the database was funded through
GICHD with UNMAS approval. It is available on request [no longer available] from GICHD
as a self-installing CD for use on computers with Windows 95
(or later) and Office 97 professional (or later). Please contact
GICHD if you would like a copy. [See the records on line, or contact me.]
believe that it should be extended
with another dataset listing missed-mine incidents where the
device was found after clearance was finished. These
events are sometimes investigated, but the reports are often
jealously guarded. Such a dataset would allow some objective
comparison of the effectiveness of methods (and groups). The
database could also be extended to include datasets of civilian
injury in uncleared areas and you will find an example
of this on the distribution CD.
at the time of writing, the future of the database is uncertain.
But if you have details of any demining accidents, please send
them to me by email.
picture below shows a deminer gambling with his fingers in Angola.