Queensland health and safety core

QUEENSLAND has maintained itself as an international hub of coal mine safety research, a status the Department of Mines and Energy's Stewart Bell says will continue with a number of exciting projects coming of age.
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Simtars escape/rescue diesel vehicle's navigation device.

Angie Tomlinson

Bell, who is executive director of the department's safety and health unit, was speaking yesterday at the Australian Longwall Mining Summit in Mackay to outline some of the research that Simtars, CSIRO, the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology have been working on.

Some of the areas of health and safety research include equipment automation, fatigue, spontaneous combustion, dust and diesel particulate matter exposure, and reducing musculoskeletal damage.

Bell detailed to International Longwall News the mine rescue vehicle Simtars has been working on for a number of years. The concept was first explored as a solution to the lack of transport during an underground incident.

Bell said the project was now at the stage where a consortium with mining companies had been formed to fund a commercial model of the vehicle. Work to bring the vehicle to commercial status will be tendered out.

The department is also working on its own projects – just a few months ago it held a meeting with mining companies to present its research findings on proximity detection in underground coal mines.

“We said to the mining companies we will give you the information now and come back in six months and see what is happening," Bell said.

“At the end of the day, if the technology is there and it is not being picked up we have the capacity to mandate it but that is a last resort. We would much rather encourage the companies to have a look – which most of them are.”

Bell said even though there were currently a number of proximity detection devices on the market, none had been rated intrinsically safe. He estimated a product ready for Australian underground coal mines was six to 12 months away.

Bell said the Queensland Mines Inspectorate was also taking a bigger role in health and safety research.

“Our people are going around the mines all the time so they can see what issues are out there and what can be solved from a research point of view,” he said.

“We can do that a few ways – we can get the research done ourselves through Simtars, apply for ACARP funding, we can encourage other people to do it through forums or talk to coal companies directly. We have a range of mechanisms we can use.

“We have also broadened the skill base of the Queensland Inspectorate where we have occupational hygienists and an ergonomist within the inspectorate – and we are about to employ some more."

Looking ahead, Bell said there was some exciting technology emerging – such as nanotechnology, robotics and communication breakthroughs – but it was up to research bodies and industry to adapt that technology to the underground coal sector.

“At the end of the day it should be possible to take people out of the most dangerous areas underground," Bell said.