Gold Mining Safety Tips

In my previous post I covered some of the risks involved with recreational or small-scale placer gold mining and now its time to list a few tips for making your mining endeavors safer:

Crushing Injuries:

When working around or under large rocks or boulders keep your body and extremities positioned away (as much as possible) from areas of potential collapse. Or, better yet, brace or "shore up" the area you are working by replacing those areas already dug or "cleaned out" with some of the larger rocks you moved out previously. This helps to counterbalance the "imbalance" created by removal of material underneath such obstacles and can prevent potential rolling or collapse.

Always stay aware of what you are doing the entire time and don't assume that a big boulder won't move on you....I nearly had my right hand crushed on a recent trip to the North Yuba River in California's Motherlode in just such an incident. NEVER ever crawl partway underneath a large boulder or obstruction to get at gold-bearing material, no matter how good that dirt may look. If you have to, use a prybar or a "come along" to move that nuisance out of the way, or get someone to help you. Again, be safe and work smart, on the surface or underwater (if you are dredging).

Heat Exhaustion:

Gold mining, for the most part, requires a great deal of hard physical effort that is not for the faint of heart. Add this to the fact that many mining activities are performed under the hot sun, and it is easy to see that serious trouble can be just around the next corner. Use your common sense when working in areas where high daytime temperatures can occur or are the norm. Keep yourself well hydrated, periodically take rest breaks in the shade or in your tent or RV, and stay out of the sun during the hottest time of the day.

Know the the warning signs of potential heat exhaustion and take action immediately if these symptoms appear: fatigue, weakness, feeling faint, nausea, severe headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, or sudden irritability. Be especially careful in desert or dry gold areas where excessive heat and lack of water and shade can prove problematic.


Remain well-hydrated when out in the field conducting mining activities by drinking plenty of water or "Gatorade" type sports drinks (these replace lost electrolytes). Sodas and juice are OK too, but they don't do as good a job at quenching your thirst. Avoid consuming alcoholic beverages when mining. Aside from the fact alcohol will negatively influence your decision making processes if you drink enough of it, you'll dehydrate at an accelerated pace.


If you're mining in colder climates or at elevations where the weather can turn nasty quickly in the fall or spring, make sure you are dressed for the occasion. One good way of doing this is to "layer" by wearing successive layers of light-to-warm clothing that can be added or removed as required. Take along a warm hat and gloves, as well. I never was much on cold-weather mining, but if you are, make sure you are prepared for any eventualities.


There are a number of ways of reducing the possibility of this life-threatening event: use the "buddy system" when deep-water dredging; avoid trying to cross fast-flowing or deep streams, especially if you are carrying mining gear or wearing waders; and by being a decent swimmer if you decide to "cool off" by diving or swimming in the cold waters of a mountain river. Again, avoid alcohol consumption and use plain old common sense.

Slips and Falls:

When mining (especially in locations with water) wear boots, work shoes, or tennies (not good for preventing crushing injuries, by the way) that have a "gripper," non-slip type of sole. Many of the rocks and bedrock surfaces along a gold-bearing stream can be as slippery as ice. Don't be in a hurry, watch where you step, and where possible, support yourself with items such as prybars, long-handled shovels, a walking stick, or something similar.

Animals, Reptiles, and Insects:

The best advice I can give you here is "leave those wild critters alone!" They are called wild for a reason and are not meant to be poked, prodded, or otherwise manhandled. Avoid potential snake bite by being vigilant and careful when reaching behind, moving, or stepping over rocks, logs, or boulders during mining activities or when hiking to a new site. If necessary, wear insect repellant to keep those pesky little flying nuisances at a distance.

Being Trapped/Asphyxia:

Stay out of old mines, "coyote" holes, or the vertical tunnels or shafts the old timers dug to get at bedrock gold in streams or drywashes. Despite your curiousity, remaining above ground in the fresh air and sunshine is a "far, far better thing to do."

Sun Damage/Skin Cancer:

This one is essentially a "no brainer." When out and about (especially at higher elevations or in the desert Southwest) cover up by wearing long pants (have you ever tried to mine in shorts and bare knees? OUCH!), a long-sleeved shirt, and a wide brimmed hat of some sort. "Slather" all exposed body parts with high SPF sunscreen lotion. You may not appear as the mining stud or studette you'd like to be, but you won't have a plastic surgeon carving away on you later either (something I know about personally).

"Valley Fever"/Respiratory Problems:

Wear a dust mask or lightweight half-face respirator when working in dry placers, especially if you are goinng to be running a drywasher to get your gold. Even a kerchief or piece of cloth tied behind your head and used in this manner (like the bad guys in an old western movie) is better than directly breathing in dust, fine silica, or bacteria.

Final Word of Advice:

The absolute best safety tip I can give you is this, use the "buddy system." If something does go awry, one of you can help the other and vice versa. This is especially true for deep-water dredgers who spend the bulk of their time mining fully immersed in water. Remember the old adage, "two heads are better than one."

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2008


  1. You've got great info in here, mate! Have you heard of the Murphy's Law? You probably have. What I do is to always think about Murphy's Law--call it weird, but it helps me to be extra cautious when working around the mine. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for commenting. Yep...Murphy's Law is always at work...cautuion is the key indeed. Be safe out there! Jim


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