Management of ventilation risk central to safety

Every mine operation should meet regulatory requirements, but doing so is a bare minimum. Even so, a regulation cannot cover every possible situation, according to Vale North Atlantic manager ventilation design and tech support Cheryl Allen.

The ventilation specialist, with 30 years of mining experience, leads a team that develops the strategy, standards and guidelines, long to short range designs and execution support for ventilation projects and operating systems at eight Canadian mines.

Allen believes the above principle should be applied to every part of an operation, not the least the design of mine ventilation to ensure worker health and safety.

She emphasises that a ventilation system is designed to keep workers safe without the use of technology.

“However, technology can greatly enhance the efficiency of the ventilation system,” Allen tells Australian Mining.

She says the latest technology advances are in underground communication systems, which are the backbone of more cost-effective concepts (that have been considered and applied for many years) to automatically control ventilation systems.

The industry’s move towards battery electric equipment (BEV) to replace the diesel-powered equipment is also a step change to eliminate diesel particulate in the mine environment and reduce the heat resulting from the engine.

With technology advances, however, caution should be undertaken.

“In today’s ventilation design, it is expected that a numerical model will be built to demonstrate the air flow distribution and associated infrastructure,” Allen says.

“Numerical modelling tools, regardless of the type, will produce results. However, caution must be given to ensure inputs are sound and the results are checked.”

Though numerical modelling allows the completion of designs in relative ease and speed, a ventilation designer must be skilled to create an air volume demand and distribution system without a model.

Technologies that are chosen must also be deemed fit for the mine, considering their complexity, skillsets requirement and levels of maintenance.

Cheryl Allen.

Companies need to establish and align the criteria they will use to design their ventilation system before the design is initiated.

Risk assessments also need to occur to ensure the design is robust and appropriate controls are included in the final optimised design.

The ventilation system necessary for a selected mining method may also require a specific type of equipment to mine the orebody.

“This decision is based on many factors, such as type and value of the minerals, orientation, lateral expanse and depth, which can complicate the extraction of the ore,” Allen says.

“The ventilation design is intended to dilute and remove airborne hazards from the work environment. However, when conditions arise are abnormal, personal protective equipment (PPE) may be required.

“It is important to note that PPE is not considered good engineering practice in the design of a ventilation system, and considered only as a last alternative to ensure the health and safety of a worker.”

These contaminants are largely sourced by dust, gas and heat that is created from diesel engines which power mobile vehicles, or from breaking and moving ore and rock.

Technology advances have the potential to dilute airborne hazards to acceptable levels where people and equipment are working in the mine.

With real-time monitoring, the environmental conditions will be transparent. Employees will better understand the state of their environment and make informed decisions to implement necessary adjustments.

“If we analyse the data and better plan changes, we will operate more efficiently and reduce risk,” Allen says.

“Technology can optimise design and help to manage ventilation systems more efficiently, but humans are required to ensure that the technologies are functioning as designed, the air quality is as being reported and the correct volumes of air are being delivered to the workplace.

“The health and safety of workers must be ensured.”

Cheryl Allen will speak at the Mine Ventilation Conference 2019, organised by The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. The conference will be held in Perth from August 26-28. To find out more, visit minevent.ausimm.com.

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