West Wallsend put to the test

XSTRATA Coal reinforced its strong reputation for safety after successfully running a Level 1 Simulated Emergency Exercise at its West Wallsend colliery in New South Wales.

Blair Price

Published in the September 2010 Australian Longwall Magazine

Well known in Queensland, Level 1 emergency exercises give miners the chance to test their response to a well thought-out disaster scenario.

Held on May 19, the West Wallsend exercise kicked off at 9am with the discovery of a large and expanding fire at a main trunk belt drive head unit on the pit bottom.

The simulated underground belt fire had to be extinguished while the products of combustion from the fire triggered a full evacuation of the underground workforce.

But the evacuation was not planned to be straightforward, as a load haul dump incident on the surface damaged the shaft winder and seriously crushed the operator.

The miners underground were consequently forced to evacuate through a second egress drift winder.

Xstrata said the scenario was credible with a low probability yet high consequence.

“It was carefully planned and scoped by an organising committee and implemented in order to subject the mine’s emergency preparedness to practical scrutiny,” the company said.

“It presented the Emergency Management Team with a situation where a fire was burning out of control on pit bottom. One man required treatment for cardiac arrest at the fire site, another man required treatment for crush and spinal injuries sustained on the surface, and one of the relatively large number of people evacuating from various parts of the mine injured his ankle.”

The exercise gave the workers experience using self rescuers and compressed air breathing apparatus but also helped them “gain respect for the mine’s segregated intake”.

Apart from testing the first aid skills and fire-fighting capability at West Wallsend, the normal workforce egress via the elevator shaft was immobilised – forcing miners to find the drift bottom egress.

“In summary the exercise was performed with a good degree of sincerity and the mine deployed its formal Emergency Management System,” Xstrata said.

“People were aware that it existed and the sick and injured casualties were treated in a prompt and professional manner. The mine had a structured and formal approach to evacuation and everyone was evacuated to a position of safety.

“As expected from planned simulated emergency exercises, lessons are provided to all participants and assessors on the day.”

All members of the West Wallsend workforce were recommended to undertake training in strategic fire fighting along with basic practical application of normal underground fire- fighting equipment.

Xstrata said this could be best achieved by scenario training sessions on monthly training days.

Refresher training in basic CPR was also recommended.

A Mines Rescue Service presentation also detailed its current role and protocol for mines rescue assistance.

Other Xstrata coal mines were recommended to develop a robust recovery plan to mitigate potential business interruption losses in the event of an emergency.

The other sites were also recommended to review their internal and external communication systems.

Xstrata seeks to expose as many other employees as possible to the Level 1 exercise and assessing process, while maintaining a small core group of the current assessors for the next exercise so there is no loss of corporate memory.

United operations manager Mark Munro, who is now at Beltana/Blakefield South, was the lead assessor on the day.

The 28-member assessor team had representation from all of Xstrata Coal’s underground operations, plus the state’s Mines Rescue Service, the NSW Ambulance Service and CFMEU district check inspectors David Simm and Greg Dalliston (Queensland).

Xstrata said the West Wallsend workforce is better prepared for participating in the exercise with all objectives met.

“The strengths of the workforce balanced the weaknesses exposed and there were many positive findings and performance improvements on the day.

“The day was treated seriously by the majority of participants and Mark Munro’s team of assessors is to be congratulated for planning a simple, realistic and challenging exercise, and thanked for their professional approach with input into the exercise.”

The project was managed by Xstrata Coal group health and safety manager Dave Mellows along with training coordinator Darryl Cooper, while Xstrata’s Bernie McKinnon designed the exercise.

Seamus Devlin and David Connell from Mines Rescue Services also assisted in developing the plan.

“Xstrata put a lot of time and effort into running an excellent event,” Mines Rescue regional manager David Connell told Australian Longwall Magazine.

“It tested both the ability of miners underground to utilise self escape apparatus and procedures as well as the capacity of the surface personnel to make fast and accurate decisions to deal with the underground emergency.

“Mines Rescue was impressed with how the simulated emergency was dealt with underground and on the surface.

“As with events of this type, a few lessons were learnt which will increase the safety of all at the West Wallsend Colliery and the mining industry.”

Xstrata plans to run a Level 1 Simulated Emergency Exercise at an open cut operation in NSW later this year.

Located in Western Lake Macquarie in the Newcastle coalfield of New South Wales, longwall mining started up at West Wallsend in 1987.

The mine produced 2.93 million tonnes of run-of-mine coal for the 2009-2010 financial year according to data provided by Coal Services.

But the West Wallsend colliery is targeting up to 5.5 million tonnes per annum of ROM production through its continued operations project which is under state government assessment.

Once approved, the mine could produce this amount of coal for another 10-12 years.

Continued operations will keep 390 people employed full time and is estimated to produce a total of 36Mt of ROM coal.

Panel Longwall 38 is currently being mined in the Western Domain.

The West Borehole seam is cut at a height of 4.8m while future mining will also take place in the Southern Domain.

Most of the thermal coal produced is exported through Newcastle while a small amount is periodically trucked to the Eraring Power Station.

After evaluating other available systems, West Wallsend awarded NLT Australia the contract to supply a complete tracking and two-way messaging cap lamp system in mid-July.

“We chose NLT Digital because it is totally IS [intrinsically safe], it provided us with true two-way communications and tracking required for both safety and productivity reasons even in the hazardous zones,” West Wallsend’s selection team said at the time.

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