document was adopted for use as a training aid with IND,
the National MAC in Mozambique, it has been superseded by my paper on Field Risk Assessment (FRA) written in 2009 for inclusion in IMAS. Field risk assessments are now covered in detail in Generic SOP, Chapter 2: Safety.doc or Generic SOP, Chapter 2: Safety.pdf]
the risk involved in a certain activity has become an academic
subject marrying mathematics to social science to determine
probabilities. Like many of the new "sciences", risk-assessment
disciplines allow the past to be used to predict the future
- but with a very low degree of reliability. This is disturbing
because field people often lack formal education and may trust
academic predictions blindly, or they may reject them as unintelligible
what is done in the field, my approach has been different. Rather
than follow the strictures of the academics, my method of Risk
Assessment is based on field observations, where risk is constantly
assessed and reassessed, although the process is rarely recorded.
The process is subjective, calling on all manner of field observations
and experience - some of which may not even be conscious. I
believe that it may be useful to make deminers aware of what
they are doing so that they self-consciously bring in as many
variables as possible and update their assessments at regular
intervals - generally by a process of open discussion between
those responsible for managing the risk and those who will take
first Risk Assessment is made in order to plan the task. It
dictates the tools to use, the process to deploy, the protection
that should be worn, and sometimes the time of year when it
would be most appropriate to work. As work progresses, new information
may be acquired or a higher degree of confidence in some of
the existing information may be reached. Both may require changes
to be made in the Risk Assessment that will affect the methods
and resources that are appropriate to use for the task.
field deminers in Humanitarian Demining, the "Risk" that they
are concerned to manage is twofold:
The risk of explosive injury to deminers while they work;
The risk of leaving explosive devices behind, and the consequent
threat to civilians.
and pride in their work requires that these risks are reduced
to the lowest level possible at all times. Not all demining
group managers give both concerns the same degree of importance.
A few consider that demining is inherently dangerous and so
consider that their "professionalism" must be judged in terms
of the clear land that they hand back to the community, regardless
of accidents/injuries to personnel. Others put the safety of
their own personnel first, and accept that all "cleared" land
retains a low level of residual risk for the end users. The
best try to give both an equal importance.
it is true that some explosive incidents are "unavoidable",
in many cases the injuries resulting from these accidents could
be avoided by using appropriate tools and protective equipment.
while some residual risk always remains in a cleared area -
especially when it has only been searched to a specified depth
- it is in the interests of the field personnel for their own
safety and professionalism to always aim to clear ALL explosive
devices as they work.
managers of many demining groups add a third "fear" to their
list of "Risks". This is:
The risk of spending more money than is necessary to achieve
the end result.
the pursuit of cost-effectiveness is in conflict with desires
for safety and thorough clearance. In fact, if intelligent Risk
Assessments are made from the start, some funders are amenable
to cost-extension when the predicted risk can be shown to have
been lower than reality. This is especially true when an effective
National Mine Action Authority supports the increased Risk Assessment.
And when a funder is unresponsive, the reputation of the group
depends on them not allowing increased costs to lower their
safety and clearance standards, so they should stop work until
enough funds are available.
Threat assessment (explosive hazard)
starting any task, the explosive hazard in the area is assessed
by reference to any Level 1 Survey, Technical survey and/or
recce reports that are available. In some countries this advance work
is reliable enough for the deminers to be confident that they
know what explosive hzards to expect in advance. In others, the advance work is taken
as a rough guide and the deminers do not expect to find out
what explosive items are present with certainty until they start
working. In all cases the threat assessment of the deminers
is adjusted as they work, depending on what they find.
Typical mine threats in Southern Africa
These can be divided into:
AP pressure-operated blast mines
Small AP pressure-operated blast mines
Ground placed tripwire fragmentation mines
Stake mounted tripwire fragmentation mines
Bounding tripwire-operated fragmentation mines
AT mines (pressure operated)
AT mines (detonated with a smaller device)
injury that can be expected from each mine differs quite dramatically.
But the threat from each device is not assessed solely on the
device type, also on a combination of its condition, initiation mechanism(s) and context.
mines that have been placed for a significant period are not
in the condition they were in when they were placed. They may
be more hazardous, or less so. An AP blast mine with a broken
case is usually considered more hazardous and is often destroyed without moving it. If it has to be moved, it must first
be "pulled" from a safe distance. This is usually intended to
turn the device over, so increasing confidence that a small
movement will not initiate it. Its subsequent transfer
from one place to another should be undertaken with extreme
caution. I recommend the use of remote handling devices that
keep the deminer at least a metre from any blast mine during
its movement. Remote "pick-up" devices that keep the deminer
1.5 metres from the device are commercially available.
picture shows a two-handed device for picking up mines.
mines that are in good condition are routinely rendered "safe"
for movement and later destruction. These include many AP blast
mines and most AT blast mines.
condition of some fragmentation mines may reduce the associated
risk. For example, tripwire mines in areas where no tripwires
remain intact are far less likely to be accidentally initiated
than those where tripwires remain and are entangled in undergrowth.
Stake mounted mines where the stakes have disintegrated along
with the tripwire can be reliably inferred to have been in damp
conditions that can render fuzes inoperative through corrosion
(especially the MUV fuze family). When plastic-cased fuzes were
used, past bushfires may also have rendered them inoperative,
or softened the plastic so that the firing pin has fired backwards
and is no longer present (effectively removing their intended
means of initiation).
Some argue that a corroded mechanism is less predictable than
a pristine example and so should be seen as a greater risk.
When the mines are OZMs or POMZ-2/M with MUV fuzes, Deminers
do not agree - because the fuze system is exposed and usually
visible for them to assess. Other mines, such as the J-69 (South
African copy of the VALMARA-69) has a hidden fuze mechanism
so its condition cannot be assessed. Deminers always treat these
mines with the utmost caution.
mined-areas have been fought over and many contain a mixture
of mines and UXO. The picture below shows a collection of finds
from such a field.
Typical ordnance threats in Southern Africa
can be divided into:
and shoulder launched grenades and projectiles
Hand grenades and small arms ammunition
Air dispersed bombs
Artillery and cannon shells
Fuzes and boosters for any of the above
injury that could be expected from these munitions varies but
many could kill whatever protection a deminer was wearing. However,
the most common recorded accidents with munitions other than
mines during Humanitarian Demining activities have only involved
a fuze/booster. In these cases, injuries are usually light and
could be avoided by the use of appropriate PPE.
risk posed by each threat/device is not assessed solely on the device
type, also on a combination of its condition, fuze mechanism and context.
if these devices have not been fuzed and are in good condition,
the threat they present is considered to be very low. If the device has
been fired, the threat can be high depending on the fuzing system.
With shoulder launched grenades and projectiles, a basic knowledge
of the fusing system is essential because some are intended
to "self destruct" if they do not detonate on impact. If they
do not "self destruct" they can be very sensitive to movement.
Similarly, some anti-armour hand-grenades and many submunitions
have unpredictable fuze systems and can be very dangerous to
move. Many must be destroyed where they are. In contrast, most
common high-explosive mortar bombs that do not detonate of impact
are found in good condition and are routinely moved to a demolition
pit for later destruction. The same is true of many (but
not all) commonly found RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades).
fuzed, fired, or abandoned, if a propelled device is in poor condition,
the threat of ingesting volatile propellants and from accidental
ignition of those propellants can require specialist knowledge
in order to make an appropriate assessment. When a device is
in poor condition and contains phosphorous based incendiaries,
the threat of the incendiary igniting on contact with air when
the device is moved can be high. In many cases, specialist knowledge
is not available and the deminers simply destroy the device using large amounts
of explosive without moving it. (Deminers responsible for demolitions
are usually trained to discriminate incendiaries from high explosive
munitions in order to avoid disposing of incendiaries unsafely.)
is evidence that (after the return of Internally displaced people
and refugees) unexploded devices (fuzed) cause at least as many civilian
casualties as mines. When civilian safety is the main concern,
this makes the removal of UXO at least as important as the removal of
The context of the mined-area is also highly relevant, affecting
ease of access and detectability, so altering the degree of
risk involved. The following is an incomplete list of contextual
variables that may affect the Risk Assessment in a particular
Areas that are heavily overgrown present a greater hazard
than those where undergrowth is sparse. This is true even
when the mines are not tripwire operated because the deminers
cannot see what they are approaching, which may be an
obstruction, trench etc.
hardness of the ground can seriously increase the risk
of an unintended detonation when excavating detected devices.
electromagnetic qualities of the ground can severely affect
metal-detector performance. The presence of large quantities
of scrap metal can also seriously affect metal-detector
presence of obstructions, (boulders, burnt out vehicles
etc) can significantly hamper access, command and control
lines and the choice of resources to deploy.
to power lines, reinforced concrete, buildings, power
lines and transformers can all affect the performance
of metal-detectors (and may adversely affect
field communication systems).
areas may be heavily contaminated with traces of high
explosives that affect dog performance.
mines that have been placed on a steep area are at high
risk of having been moved by heavy rainfalls and their
original orientation may have changed. They may also have
become deeply buried.
stones and thistles/thorn bushes (cut or intact) can seriously
inhibit the use of dogs without foot protection.
irregular or damp ground can also seriously affect the
use of machines in ground preparation and the deployment
of manual deminers.
of wet and dry conditions can increase the mined-area hazard
by changing the properties of the ground. Rain can soften the
ground surface and make it easier to safely excavate, but rain
may also change the electromagnetic properties of the ground
and make devices harder to detect with a metal-detector. Excessive
heat and humidity can affect the performance of deminers and
may dictate a change to the working hours or the frequency of
Experience of the work to date
Assessments are varied by experience in the particular mined-area.
For example, the threat assessment will change according to the
risk assessment may be high when tripwire operated mines are
known to be present. This may mean that a decision is made to
clear all undergrowth using machines prior to manual demining.
After a significant number of the mines have been found and
none of them had intact tripwires or were capable of easy initiation
by incautious handling, the risk assessment may be reduced.
It may then be decided that the mechanical assets are better
deployed elsewhere or in another way, and the clearance of light
vegetation might take place manually.
another case, a minimum-metal mine may be found in an area where
it was not anticipated. To achieve confident clearance to the
required depth, alternative detectors, dogs or ground preparation
methods may need to be used.
to the context such as unexpected wet ground, obstructions,
trenches, abandoned military equipment or changes in the electromagnetic
properties of the ground may require a change to the site management
or to the resources deployed.
the threat assessment or the context changes significantly as
the work progresses, the original Risk Assessment should be
examined and appropriate changes to the working methods adopted.
This may have a negative impact on the projected cost of the
task, but should always improve safety and confidence in the
thoroughness of clearance. When a revised Risk Assessment has
a negative impact on cost-effectiveness, the managers of the
demining group must accept safety for the deminers and the end-users
of the land as their first priorities.
Risk Assessment so see an example. It is
not typical because it was assessing the risk for a research
group, but the principles are applied.