Breathe easy: Underground Ventilation

Gary Thorinson has travelled the world, and visited mines on nearly every continent. 
The ABC Ventilation Systems director has seen the best and the worst, and watched the industry grow and change over the years. 
After recently visiting Australia the Canada-based ventilation expert said he'd been impressed by what he'd seen. 
But he also saw room for improvement. 
Thorinson said most Australian sites had the basics of mine ventilation down-pat. 
"Australian mines in general have very good primary ventilation and that takes a bit of pressure off the secondary ventilation, that is, the fans and ducts inside the mine," he said. 
"Primary ventilation, or large fans placed at the surface, are the key to getting good ventilation." 
He also said ventilation management and standardisation in Austra­lia was some of the best in the world. 
"I see more standardisation in sizes of ducting and fans here than any other place," he said. 
"With standardisation you have a better chance of succeeding in getting the right things in the right places." 
But he said there was one practice used widely in Australia he'd seen avoided in other countries because of its risk to safety. 
"The one unusual thing about Australia is the high use of poly ducting, which in many mining countries is considered unsafe due to variable burning characteristics in flame testing," he said. 
Thorinson said the most common errors seen on mine sites globally were maintenance and installation problems. 
"We really believe that repair is key to good ventilation – a good installation with holes in it will not deliver the air required to give the miner a safe and healthy working environment," he said. 
"The other installation error we see is that of trying to bend the straight ducting around corners – you need to get smooth transitions to get low resistance and good air." 
Stressing the importance of ventilation, Thorison said it was vital ­miners paid more attention to the topic to ensure the safety of their workers. 
And he said while improved ventilation systems were seeing ­improvements in site safety and worker health, the progress was not happening fast enough. 
"There is a greater awareness today on the part of the companies and miners of the importance of protective equipment." 
"Nonetheless we are continuing to see miners with respiratory problems and that is certainly a reflection that we are not able to keep the air as clean as we want." 
Thorison said the industry needed to work harder on making sure the equipment was there to ensure safe work and that employees understood how to use it. 
"Many mines have all of the right equipment for ventilation but it is the use of that equipment that sometimes produces substandard ­results," he said. 
No matter where in the world the operation was, or the kind of development it involved, Thorison said this commitment to safety united the global industry. 
He said the companies and regions that wanted to have the highest skilled workers and the best producing mines would be the regions that made this commitment. 
In assessing Australia's performance, Thorison said it was "in the lead" on mine education of all types, which fed into its rising reputation. 
"The system in Australia for developing miners and mine managers is the best I see anywhere and it is showing, Australians have become big exporters of mine personnel for all of the new mining areas," he said. 

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