Away with paper, in with e-books

YOU’RE underground and urgently need to check the minesite policy related to gas concentrations but you can’t find the manual. And when you do, some information is missing. In response to this all too common experience, a newly completed ACARP project outlines some approaches to improve information retrieval that can easily be implemented into day-to-day operations at a mine site.

Staff Reporter

The research project, Significant Incident Identification and Evaluation System, has developed a system to convert procedures into electronic formats. This would allow procedural information to be accessed instantly via computer, an electronic book or on-line.

Typically, useful information that might need to be rapidly accessed in an underground coal mine in the event of an emergency is mostly available on paper. And as project leader for the research project, David Cliff, director of research at MISHC commented, many mines have poor systems for collecting and maintaining information.

Cliff said the initial impetus for the project grew out of observations of Incident Management Teams during Level One Emergency Response Simulation Exercises where flaws in data retrieval were observed.

“In general there was significant opportunity to improve the way information was obtained, stored, analysed and displayed in the Incident Management Team as well as the need to improve record keeping and objective decision-making,” he said.

Cliff said at times there were delays of 2-3 hours while information was located during the exercises. Instant access to information electronically would remove delays in decision-making he said.

While the initial aim of the project was to improve the capabilities of a mine to rapidly and accurately investigate any abnormal gas concentrations in the mine, other deliverables are possible.

All relevant information at a mine site can be prepared in electronic format, such as site policies, procedures, manuals and standard operating procedures. These could be accessed during day-to-day operations and would improve reporting and record keeping.

“In addition the system can be used to optimise the design and operation of mine environment-monitoring systems and assist in the on-site training of mine personnel in emergency response,” Cliff said.

Importantly, the software tools use commonly available commercial products such as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which are familiar to most people.

Cliff admits there are some barriers to introducing such a system into a mine. One being that it takes time to transfer quantities of paper based documents into electronic formats and at most mines it would be hard to identify someone to perform that task. In addition, there are varying degrees of computer literacy among the workforce which may generate some resistance to electronic formats.

“It was made clear in the project at an early stage that computer based tools were of no value if personnel were not kept familiar with their operation,” Cliff said.

Two coal mines are currently investigating incorporating elements of the tools in their emergency response systems. The Queensland Mines Rescue Services is also investigating adapting the tools for their use.