Report: APP CMHS Project 4




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6.1.4. Emergency Response Technology

A range of simple technology equipment is being developed and used to aid escaping mine workers to quickly reach a place of safety. Most have been in use for some time and are not new, but refinements improve the utilisation and efficacy.

Personal tags, tag boards and electronic tagging

Simple tags boards are provided at the entry to the mine and the entry to each mining panel. These typically comprise robust noticeboards marked up in a table format provided with a hook to hand each persons tag. The table is usually divided into the various mining districts and may include annotation for contractors and visitors.

All persons entering a mine are provided with two tags – one left on the surface tag board to indicate that they are underground; the second left at the entry to a specific mining panel to indicate that they are in the particular part of the mine and to ensure that there are sufficient long duration breathing apparatus within that panel for the use of all persons to escape.

Electronic tags have been used in numerous mining operations around the world. However, there is a difficulty in adapting them to underground coal mines – due to the need for intrinsic safety. This limitation has precluded their use to date. Recent innovations however, have now overcome this obstacle and such systems are being introduced (http://www.minesite.com.au/coal_mines_tracker_taggingc).

PED system

PED (Personal Emergency Device) has been available and in use in underground mines since 1990 and provides a through-the-earth one way communication system. Adaptations are in place for simple two way communication. It works in a similar fashion to a pager with text messages sent to a receiver and uses ultra low frequency. (http://www.minesite.com.au/coal_mines_ped_system)

Diesel vehicles

In an evacuation situation, the fastest means of escape is by using the normal mode of transport – rubber tyred diesel vehicles in the Australian context. However, there are two significant issues with the use of diesels in a fire/explosion situation. The ventilation system may be disturbed to such an extent that flammable gas is present in explosive concentrations and smoke may reduce visibility.

Testing of diesel engines in gassy environments has been researched by Simtars (Safety in Mines Testing and Research Station - Queensland) in order to develop guidance for the safe use and gas conditions that such diesel vehicle can be safely used in. They have also developed a simple sonar type system to assist a driver to identify and navigate the roadway in low visibility conditions.

Lifelines, link-lines and route marking

The resultant smoke from a fire or explosion or the use of self contained breathing apparatus by nature reduces the visibility of mine workers trying to escape from a mine. A range of techniques have been implemented to aid mineworkers in quickly navigating mine roadways in an all but blind condition.

Lifelines made of plastic coated wire rope are often hung from the roof in a road way, with suitable hanging devices to allow it to be lowered to hand level in the event of use. These are usually fitted with a small plastic cone to indicate to the user the correct direction of travel to exit the mine. A person can travel at almost normal walking speed in a zero visibility situation – dependent on the condition of the roadway.

Link-lines are simple short lengths of rope with karabiners to attach between escaping mineworkers. These aid in keeping all persons together during escape. It also adds to the feeling of contact and support in such a traumatic situation.

Route marking systems are provided in roadways to supplement the installation of lifelines to provide escape route guidance. They normally comprise reflective streamers hung from the roof with colours that denote either entry or exit direction and whether it is a primary or secondary roadway.

Walking canes

Simple plastic conduit in the shape of a walking stick, though used in the opposite configuration – with the curved portion in contact with the ground; aid a person in providing contact with the ground and allow a tactile reference to ground and walking conditions. Such items aid with speed and confidence of travel.

Change over stations and refuge bays

Considerable discussion has ensued in recent times, following international disasters, as to the availability and use of refuge bays. Refuge bays are typically self contained robust structures where persons would take refuge (potentially for an extended period) in a safe environment whilst awaiting rescue. They are provided with a fresh air supply, food, water, blankets, first aid and communication. These are generally used in Australian mines for areas, where people may work, that are remote from the normal mine access. They are not used in other areas, due to the concern regarding the ability to safely re-enter the mine to rescue people following an explosion or major fire situation.

The preference in regard to escape of personnel is to provide change over stations. These are similarly robust structures, but do not have long duration intent or supplies. They are designed for fresh air change over to long duration breathing apparatus and communication provisions with surface incident controllers; to aid people in escaping out of the mine or to the next change over station.


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