Emergency exercise puts Newlands to the test

XSTRATA’S Newlands longwall mine was subjected to the annual Queensland Level 1 emergency exercise on Friday with the mine receiving good marks for the response from those on the ground.
Emergency exercise puts Newlands to the test Emergency exercise puts Newlands to the test Emergency exercise puts Newlands to the test Emergency exercise puts Newlands to the test Emergency exercise puts Newlands to the test

Xstrata's Newlands operation

Blair Price

This year’s rescue scenario involved a loaded fuel tanker with “faulty brakes” being driven down a ramp at the mine. The tanker veers out of control, crashes into an open pit and catches fire.

Smoke and noxious gases then enter the underground workings. Underground miners have to find their own way out, while those above ground activate the emergency response and deal with the burning fuel tanker.

On the ground at the event, Queensland Mines Rescue Service state manager Wayne Hartley told ILN the scenario was selected as such an incident had taken place on a minesite about 12 months ago.

“As a result of that a number of controls were put in place with regards to trucks and braking systems and the way they enter the mine so it was taken from a real event which allowed us to test the mine’s communication system control and emergency response system and it all worked very well,” he said.

Queensland chief inspector of coal mines Gavin Taylor added there had been similar incidents with a runaway truck careening down a ramp into the in-pit (box cut) area of a highwall longwall operation.

“In one incident the truck did ignite, the driver was seriously burnt and the underground personnel had to be evacuated. This exercise scenario was a variation on that incident,” Taylor said.

Hartley said Friday’s exercise at Newlands aimed to put the mine’s emergency systems to the test and was taken very seriously.

In assessment of the emergency response Hartley said the QMRS was looking at how the incident management team coordinated its tactics and strategies for dealing with the accident and how it communicated.

“It gives them an opportunity to really test it out in an environment where it is controlled rather than having something that is an emergency for real,” he said.

Newlands’ open pit crew team received considerable positive feedback for their quick response to the simulated disaster.

QMRS operations manager Lindsay Creighton said open cut rescue members were deployed at the portals and utilised bulk water tankers with remote monitors on board, like the fire trucks at the airport that have big water cannons.

He said the fire was out reasonably quick but had penetrated underground in seams due to fuel leakage, resulting in strata damage.

This part of the exercise made it impossible for those underground to escape through the normal travelway so they had to leave the mine through an alternative roadway.

Creighton said a total of eight people made it through the emergency evacuation system, with one guy stretchered out with a mock injury.

Seven Newlands mine rescuers were mobilised while teams from other mines were on standby.

Taylor said he was impressed with the mine’s firefighting efforts.

“The underground crews, control room operators and the surface firefighting team that was activated from the Newlands surface operations were exemplary in their professional conduct and readiness to participate in and learn from the exercise,” he said.

With Newlands using a combination of self-contained self-rescuers (SCSRs) and compressed air breathing apparatus (CABA) systems, the longwall evacuation feedback from Taylor was positive.

“Other than two individuals in the development crew who had problems donning the units, there were no other reported incidents with SCSRs,” he said.

“Three longwall operators wore SCSRs throughout the exercise while the other longwall team members changed to CABA units.

“The three longwall crew members reported no problems with their units as did two development crew members who also wore their SCSRs as part of the exercise.”

Overall the lessons learnt on the day will be available in a report that is currently being compiled, with Taylor saying the department hopes to have it published by Christmas.

“As with all exercises, there were systems, procedures and equipment that worked well and the exercise coordinators will report back on those areas to the mine so they can further embed them into their system,” he said.

“The positive factors will also be disseminated across the rest of the industry, so those positives can be introduced and used elsewhere.

“Responses that did not go as well as the exercise coordinators would have liked or as planned will be reviewed by the mine and steps taken to address those issues.

“As for the rest of the industry, they may wish to amend their emergency plan if similar systems are in place and then test both the positive elements and the less positive elements in the operation's annual Level 2 exercise."

Asked whether Queensland leads Australia or the world in this type of emergency exercise, Taylor said he believes so.

“I know of no other jurisdiction where a simulated emergency is planned and conducted on this scale on an annual basis,” he said.

“This year we had observers from both the United States and New Zealand, and I know that both observers, who were actively involved as auditors, learnt much.”

Taylor thanked everyone involved in the exercise, noting the professionalism and preparedness of those who gave up significant time away from work and leisure over the weekend.

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