Coal industry told fight, not flight

WHAT to do for the first five hours during an underground coal mine emergency was under debate at a recent mine workshop. Queensland Chief Inspector of Coal Mines Brian Lyne talks to International Longwall News about his views on emergency response, and the ever contentious decision – fight of flight?
Coal industry told fight, not flight Coal industry told fight, not flight Coal industry told fight, not flight Coal industry told fight, not flight Coal industry told fight, not flight

Photo courtesy of Rob Mayfield.

Staff Reporter

The industry seminar and workshop in central Queensland brought together mining professionals from across Australia, New Zealand and as far away as the United States to discuss best practices for the first five hours of an underground coal mine emergency response.

Lyne said using the most appropriate breathing apparatus and improving training of mine personnel for an emergency is a vital “self help” ability which could save lives, and the mine.

He said the Fight or Flight seminar attracted 105 people, with 95 attending the following workshop, which was more than the numbers expected from Queensland’s 15 underground coal mines.

The main message that emerged from the seminar echoed the results of the recent Queensland emergency exercise at Broadmeadow mine and findings of recent mine disasters in the US, which found that mines need to focus on training personnel in mines rescue techniques and self escape.

“One of the important papers at the seminar demonstrated how quickly fires at various coal and metalliferous mines from around the world had developed,” Lyne said.

“Seminar attendees were left in no doubt that if you leave a fire burning underground, and people who are underground don’t fight the fire, it makes it much harder to fight later … and if someone is trapped inside, you almost make it impossible to save them.”

The seminar also discussed the time it took for external mines rescue assistance to reach an emergency. Lyne said based on records from real and simulated emergencies it took around five hours before they reached underground, and therefore it is important that mine operators are able to organise a response for those critical first five hours.

Lyne said training in the use of self-contained self-rescuers (SCSRs) was also a hot topic at the seminar, with industry professionals giving presentations on how SCSRs have evolved for practical use and demonstrating the latest real scenario training units.

He said problems in the use of SCSRs in Australian coal mines were parallel to those in the US, where miners inexperienced in the use of the self-rescuers had thought their apparatus was failing, when in fact subsequent testing of the units had shown that the SCSRs were operating correctly.

“New SCSR training apparatus was demonstrated at the seminar and are now available, which will give underground miners and contractors the real effects and sensation of using the units in an emergency situation,” Lyne said.

The seminar and workshop provided an opportunity to promote the training apparatus, but Lyne said only about 150 units have been sold in Queensland since their introduction.

The industry meeting also focused on the emerging alternative to using caches of SCSRs, the compressed air breathing apparatus (CABA).

“In the 10 years since oxygen self-rescuers have been used in Queensland coal mines, there has also been a dramatic development of CABA,” Lyne said.

“Mines need to provide the ability for persons who are underground to be able to respond to the emergency with the equipment they’ve got, and that’s where CABA comes in.

“Miners also need to be able to communicate to the surface, and that’s where you also need the CABA, because you can’t talk with an oxygen self-rescuer in your mouth.”

Lyne said regulators were hoping coal companies would see the benefits of CABA and adopt the system voluntarily, without it having to be made a regulation. This will be a test of the maturity of the mining industry, he said.

The seminar also identified some potential key research areas, such as the need for underground emergency vehicles and two-way communication.

“I think we are in the process of seeing a significant change in the way in which mines rescue and mine emergency response is occurring now, and part of it will be the introduction of CABA.

“We are also making sure that the mine emergency response systems integrate smoothly with our Queensland Mines Rescue Services,” Lyne said.

Keep watching International Longwall News to see what other industry presenters had to say.

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