Andy Smith
Mine action specialist
Hand-tools as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The records in the Database of Demining Accidents (DDAS) show that 'Excavation' of a suspect mine is the most common activity at the time of a demining accident. Excavation involves using hand tools to expose a suspected mine or other explosive hazard. It is an activity that cannot be avoided and accidents have occurred when the victim was working in accordance with approved procedures. The 'duty of care' of an employer requires that a deminer be protected appropriately when working as directed on a required task.

IMAS 10.30 states that blast-resistant hand-tools should be part of a deminer's Personal protective Equipment.

damaged hand

The picture shows a typical hand injury from an excavation accident.

The accident record shows that severe hand and arm injury is common when using short excavation tools and that the injuries are worst when the tool is both short and used vertically. When the tool breaks apart, parts have struck the deminers in the chest, upper arm and face. Deminers have died from injuries sustained from parts of their hand tool in AP blast mine accidents (so the tool turned the blast mine into a far more hazardous metal fragmentation mine).

The DDAS also provides evidence that long tools which stay in one piece do not injure the user. A study conducted for US Army CECOM NVESD found that demining hand-tools should be designed so that they:

• are easiest to use at a low angle to the ground;
• stay in one piece in a blast event;
• are long enough to keep the user’s hand at least 30cm from the blast; and
• incorporate a flexible blast shield whenever possible.

The picture above shows a left hand. Many deminers use two-hands on their excavation tool. Purpose made two-handed tools can protect both hands. It is critical that all excavation tools are used in the appropriate way.

Some purpose-made demining hand-tools are made using expensive hard-metals and complex fabrication. These can add to the risk of injury in an AP mine blast because complex construction can separate and hard materials can shatter.

To comply with IMAS 10.30, demining groups should use excavation tools that are fit for the purpose. The evidence shows that off-the-shelf gardening tools are not fit for purpose. If a demining group does not issue purpose designed tools for the excavation task, they may be abrogating their Duty of Care' as an employer and leaving themselves open to prosecution.