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Risk Mitigation & Elimination with a Mountain Safety Program

When working in mountainous terrain, risks and hazards are abundant. In simple terms, the hazards can be described as falling in, falling off, or things falling onto workers. This includes anything from slips, trips, and falls to falling off cliff faces or being hit with loose and falling rock.  When such hazards occur at extreme height, it increases the stakes and puts workers in a potentially dangerous situation; however, Mountain Safety Programs are designed to mitigate such risks and make a mountainous workplace as safe as possible. 

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A Mountain Safety Program involves using mountain safety professionals to assess, identify, and manage all the hazards associated with the terrain. This includes considerations for access and egress from an area or site, as well as emergency response. The entire work area should be assessed in advance of work being conducted to determine likelihood and severity of potential hazards. This includes general mountain hazards that are inherent in that environment such as rough ground, hidden holes, loose terrain, and so forth, as well as hazards that are specific to a given site.

Once the initial assessment is complete, the client will have an overview of site hazards and risks associated with the project site. Following that, secondary and tertiary assessments are done to further identify specific areas and the hazards they present. These areas where workers are likely to have problems will be clearly identified, noting the types of hazards, the level of risk, and mitigation strategies.

When terrain is mapped with hazards, management strategies and techniques are put into place for each area or type of terrain. These strategies include thorough identification and clear marking and communication of hazards, ensuring appropriate and adequate personal protective equipment for all workers, and proper training including participation in applicable mountain safety awareness courses.

When necessary, professional Mountain Safety Technicians will be used to manage a site and move individuals through utilizing appropriate techniques such as fall restraint or rope access systems. 

Having a robust emergency response program is also an integral part of a Mountain Safety Program. It is important to factor in how difficult extraction of a worker from a site would be, should it be necessary in an emergency. In simpler mountain terrain this may be accomplished using ground based rescue such as a basket stretcher that wheels off site, but in more challenging or hazardous terrain sometimes helicopter long-line rescue is the only way to reach and extract individuals. Ideally, risks are mitigated in such a way that entrance into hazardous terrain is minimized or even eliminated. If work must be conducted in these hazardous locations it should be done only by suitably trained and skilled workers and Mountain Safety Technicians, and only after a proven Emergency Response Plan is in place.

There are many different industries working in mountainous and hazardous environments. Typical industry requiring Mountain Safety Programs include oil and gas (including exploration, pipelines, drilling, geophysical surveys, and more), hydroelectric, construction, mining, and more. Depending on the client, some implement Mountain Safety Programs right from the start of a project, while others integrate a program part-way through once a need is determined. Ideally, as soon as it is known that work will be conducted in an area with terrain-related hazards, a mountain safety program is put in place. While some risks can’t be entirely eliminated (e.g., you cannot get rid of a cliff or other physical feature), they can be managed and mitigated with proper planning and procedures. Mountain Safety Programs are critical for supporting companies in following industry best practices, avoiding injury and other incidents, and for providing the highest level of safety to all workers at all times.

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