It turns out that keeping miners safe underground in coal mines is not just a duty of care by the mine operator, it is also essential to the long-term viability of the operation.
About 90% of Australia’s underground coal production comes from longwall mining, which increases the productivity of the mine through automation but also exposes miners to multiple risks.
Queensland mining safety legislation puts the onus on the operators to manage risk at the mine site prudently instead of adopting a prescriptive approach.
There are guidelines to be followed in safety but it is up to the Queensland coal mine operators to come up with solutions that make use of modern technology and innovation.
This is where progressive coal mining management can deliver on safety outcomes as well as providing a flexible and adaptive workforce.
“Increasing safety and productivity in longwall mining has been a long-term industry goal,” the CSIRO said.
“The mining industry continues to improve conditions for mine workers, striving for zero harm.
“However innovation in processes and technologies are still needed.
“Despite significant progress many challenges remain, including developing sensors and automation technologies to replace miners operating in hazardous conditions.”
CSIRO collaborated with industry and the Australian Coal Association Research Program to develop and trial a new sensor technology.
The system removes personnel from direct hazards and increases safety. Real-time progress can be monitored from anywhere in the world, leading to further efficiency gains.
The system is now licensed to Joy Global, Caterpillar, Kopex, and Nepean Longwall. These companies supply the majority of longwall equipment in Australian mines.
The technology has increased productivity by 5–10%, according to CSIRO. A recent economic assessment estimated the total net benefits arising from the research at $785.6 million.
“The improved accuracy of longwall mining operations reduces the amount of waste rock mined along with the coal, leading to less environmental disruption from rock spoil stockpiles and lower rehabilitation costs,” CSIRO said.
CSIRO’s technology has also contributed to improving the working conditions and safety of coal mine employees.