New Pike River evidence again raises question about the need to make

first_imgAustralian based refuge chamber manufacturer MineARC Systems says the most recent developments to come out of Pike River “indicate that at least two miners may have survived the initial blast. Expert imaging analysis taken from inside the mine after the first blast, depict what could be two fully clothed miners lying face down, and a nearby rescue box having been opened – indicating they may have attempted to exit the mine before being overwhelmed with smoke and/or toxic gases.” The company suggests this latest evidence, whether eventually confirmed or otherwise, “provides the clearest indication yet that a review of Australian/NZ mine safety legislation is justified – making emergency refuge compulsorily in all underground coal mines.”MineARC System’s General Manager Mike Lincoln: “It’s ironic really. Last year MineARC was recognised as the West Australian Exporter of the Year by the WA Department of Commerce, and was a finalist at the Australian Exporter of the Year Awards. It’s a testament to how overseas governments and industry, particularly in coal, have adopted Australian mine safety technology – realising the important role it plays in keeping their miners safe underground. The long standing irony has always been that Australia’s own coal mining sector doesn’t officially share this view in regards to emergency refuge. The use of emergency refuge has long been regulated in Australia’s ‘hard rock’ (metalliferous) mining industry, where the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) Guideline (Refuge Chambers in Metalliferous Mines) effectively governs the industry.“In the past few years there have been a number of incidents here in Australia where refuge chambers have helped save lives, most recently at BHP’s Leinster Nickel mine in 2009. For some reason though attitudes in the Australian/NZ coal industry have remained fixed on this particular safety issue. For years we’ve found it very difficult to even broach the idea of emergency refuge in Aus/NZ coal circles, even as a last resort.”“This has unfortunately left us lagging behind other developed producers, and some distinctly less developed producers. The US and China both have fixed industry legislation making refuge chambers compulsory in all underground coal mines. In the next few years we expect South Africa, Turkey, Russia and even India to follow suit.”“The prevailing attitude domestically seems to stem from the fundamental policy that personnel should do all they can to exit a mine during an emergency. This is the primary policy of any coal mine, and one which we fully support. However this emphasis on ‘getting out’, seems to have become so entrenched in the Aus/NZ mindset, that we’ve lost sight of the fact that incidents can and will continue to occur in which miners are simply unable to exit the mine themselves. We’ve seen many times all around the world incidents where miners have become trapped or cut off for long periods, injured or simply overwhelmed by gas or smoke as they attempt to escape – leaving them with nowhere to turn. “This is where emergency refuge should be used as a last resort; providing somewhere for miners to sit out an emergency in safety, protected from the extreme elements outside, whilst waiting to be rescued.”“Chile’s miners survived the initial 17 days underground due to a refuge chamber that was clear of the major rock-fall and managed to maintain sufficient air supply.  Two months later they were returned to the surface safe and well.“MineARC refuge chambers are designed to withstand major primary and secondary blasts. The second blast at Pike River, which all but destroyed any hope, occurred five days after the first. Clearly gas levels remained extremely high during that period and any attempt to enter the mine would have undoubtedly put others at a level of risk. But given that refuge chambers are fitted with communications systems and self monitoring systems that report back up to the surface, we may well have benefitted from a clearer indication as to the presence of any survivors, and to whether a rescue attempt should be enacted.“Unfortunately we know that industry worldwide is often reactive as opposed to proactive when it comes to enforcing new safety measures.  In regards to refuge chamber legislation this was certainly the case in the US after the Sago mine explosion (2006), in Chile after San Jose (2010) and also in China, where thousands of coal mining related fatalities occur each year. After each of these major incidents however mine refuge legislation was swiftly reviewed and enacted.“What we’re concerned by, is that despite what’s happened at Pike River, and particularly in light of this latest evidence, will the Australian/NZ coal industry remain fixed in its attitudes towards legislating emergency refuge?“Certainly in Australia/NZ there have been a couple of notable positive exceptions to the prevailing attitude. Solid Energy’s Huntley East Mine in New Zealand has long term entrapment refuge chambers manufactured by MineARC. And in August 2010, US firm Peabody was the first underground coal operator in Australia to install a long-term entrapment refuge chamber at its North Goonyella mine in Queensland. This 10-person MineARC refuge serves as a last resort to miners trapped in the mine and is therefore an integral part of North Goonyella’s emergency response plan (ERP).“However this is an example of a foreign-based operator importing what it knows to be world’s best practice safety measures into its Australian operations.  Usually it’s us telling the rest of the world how to do things the safe way.”last_img read more

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