Andy Smith
Mine action

The need for better hand-tools (1999 paper)


[Note: there were records of 280 accidents in the DDIV when this paper was written. There are now over 1000, and the general inferences over hand-tools that can be derived remain substantially unchanged. The DDIV later became the DDAS.

An analysis of incidents that have occurred to date in Humanitarian Demining (HD) was completed in the Summer of 1999 using the AVS DDIV - a software database recording the details surrounding over 260 incidents around the world. While it is not possible to be certain how many incidents went unrecorded or were concealed it is believed (with the exception of Afghanistan) that almost all of the HD incidents that have occurred in the countries covered are detailed. (For Afghanistan, all incidents over more than two years are covered, but the data before that time is not detailed enough to be useful so those incidents were deliberately omitted).

That database is now accepted by many HD professionals as a useful resource in determining risk and assessing protection needs. (It has been accepted as an authoritative resource by the User Focus Group advising GICHD - and ultimately UNMAS - when determining protection needs in humanitarian demining.)

The DDIV records the most common activity at the time of an injurious incident as “Excavation”. An excavation incident is defined as happening: “when an incident occurs while a deminer is investigating a detector reading or digging in a suspect area with any tool”. This includes those occasions when a deminer may be “prodding” or using a trowel, a bayonet, a pick or a shovel - any action involved in uncovering an object that is being investigated in case it is a mine.”

Ignoring “missed-mine” incidents - where the deminer steps on a mine that he or his colleagues have failed to locate - “excavation incidents” occur with almost four times the frequency of the next most common incident (which occurs while “handling” a device).

There is evidence in the DDIV of inadequate tooling with tools breaking up and/or encouraging vertical excavation. At least five deminers have died as a result of their hand-tool (or parts of it) hitting them. In more than half of excavation accidents, severe hand injury occurred including the amputation of fingers or entire hands. In additional accidents the victims lost lower or upper arms. There is also evidence among the records that safety can be enhanced by using long tools, hand-shields and sensible manufacturing constraints. For example, in more than quarter of excavation accidents a long, shatter-resistant hand tool was used, and is it likely that its use reduced a deminer’s injury by keeping his hand at a distance when he detonated a mine during excavation.

Leaving aside the injuries to the eyes, face and head, excavation incidents lead to the following severely disabling injuries (in order of frequency): severe hand; severe arm; amputation of finger(s); amputation of an arm; amputation of a hand.

From an analysis of the tooling used at the time of the incident and of the activity taking place, it can be determined that long hand-tools that do not disintegrate in the detonation are safer to use than short hand-tools or tools that separate or shatter.

[Obvious really, but the full paper details the evidence in the hope of silencing those who defend the convenience of buying off-the-shelf building and gardening tools.] See safer tool designs.