Anyone passing Yallourn mine in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley during October may have thought there were a number of serious incidents occurring with all of the chaos going on. Salomae Haselgrove explains what was really happening.
No-one was actually in danger at the Yallourn mine – it was just the sounds of the 27th annual Victorian Mine Rescue competition. Nine mine rescue teams from Victorian and New South Wales operations visited the site to participate in a range of team competitions, including firefighting, first aid, search and rescue and rope rescue, all to improve their skills for real-life scenarios.
While bragging rights were up for grabs, all of the teams were happy to share knowledge in their areas of expertise and embrace the opportunity to learn new skills from other mine rescue experts.
Mineral Council of Australia (MCA) Victorian executive director James Sorahan, who was running the competition for the first time, is extremely impressed with how seriously everyone took the range of highly realistic scenarios.
“The scenarios are actually quite confronting, which is the aim of it, so it provides real life training,” Sorahan tells Safe to Work. “You’ll see people with blood, fake injuries and broken legs, so it’s very realistic.”
The categories included safety, a fire exercise, first aid, ropes exercise, search and rescue, a skills exercise, theory and using a breathing apparatus. The event also gave the different types of mines an opportunity to excel.
“There actually used to be a separate underground mine rescue competition and a surface mine competition, but a few years ago they brought them together into just one competition,” Sorahan explains.
“It’s great exposure to learn about all the sorts of emergency situations that can arise at the different mine types.
“If you’re a coal miner, fire is much more of a risk than it would be for an underground gold mining team and for open cut mines it’s great experience to learn about underground emergency situations like the breathing apparatus scenario.”
Exposing mine workers to safety training for different types of mines is also beneficial if they change careers or move to different sites with unfamiliar emergencies.
The hands-on experience was supported with feedback from a team of adjudicators, who assess the every move of competitors.
They provide an oral and written feedback report after the competition, allowing teams to see what they do well and how they can improve.
This year, miners also had the opportunity to learn not only about new scenarios, but from emergency services professionals and volunteers who attended the Victorian Mine Rescue competition for the first time in 2019.
The mobile intensive care ambulance (MICA) paramedic team, Moe state emergency service (SES) and the country fire authority (CFA) Bendigo’s Oscar 1 unit all participated, while Victoria Police observed the competition.
“There is actually a huge range of emergency services that need to work together with mine rescue teams, so that was also really useful for the mine rescue teams to learn from other emergency agencies,” Sorahan says.
“The CFA in Bendigo is the only brigade in Victoria that is trained in underground mine rescue, so Bendigo and Victoria are really lucky to have a volunteer brigade with those skills.”
This was particularly useful for the fire rescue scenario, in which teams assess the situation, work together to figure out how to put the fire out and treat any injuries.
“The fire scenario is particularly spectacular and the other one that stood out to me was the first aid rescue,” Sorahan says.
“The aim is for the teams to strategise how to put the fire out, what type of fire retardant to use and extracting people who have been injured in the fire in a safe way is part of the challenge.
“In the first aid rescue there’s always a surprise thrown in, so as soon as they arrive at the scene something else usually happens during the rescue.
“This year it involved a car accident on-site where somebody was thrown through a window they had to locate and receive help from the SES part-way through the rescue.”
The competition doesn’t just better prepare miners but also helps workers from other industries.
For example, it provides realistic training opportunities for volunteer ambulance workers.
“This competition counts as hours towards their professional development to keep their qualifications up to speed,” Sorahan says.
“We’re really happy this competition provides this opportunity for some of the volunteers.”
The competition also gives local communities piece of mind that the mines operating on their doorstep are safe.
“Yallourn mine won the fire competition, so that’s really positive to give people in that LaTrobe Valley community the confidence that the coal miners are trained very well in dealing with mine fires, which is a critical issue at coal mines,” Sorahan explains.
“When you’ve got coal mines sitting fairly close to town, the community appreciates the assurance that the mines are taking fires seriously and are adequately trained to deal with it.”
In addition to the wide range of different scenarios the miners face, there are many workers who volunteer to be a part of their mine rescue team, as anyone from diesel fitters to geologists can sign up.
It’s not all serious though – the competition finishes on a fun note with the Spence Herd team building exercise.
“The point of it is training, but being a competition certainly adds a fun element to it and also as a motivator,” Sorahan says.
“The Spence Herd challenge is a bit of fun at the end of the long weekend, teams compete with each other in team building exercises and they really look forward to it.”
With the chance to be competitive, meet new people and bring pride back to their mines, the MCA reinforces the simple but important message of the Victorian Mine Rescue competition.
“Every worker deserves to go home safely, and mine rescue teams take any training they can do extraordinarily seriously,” Sorahan says.
“You hope that they don’t ever need to use the skills they learn in the competition, but at least they are ready if something does happen.”
This article also appears in the January–February edition of Australian Mining.