Mining’s hidden ticket to increased diversification

The roof of the Modular Coal-Spec can be lowered so it can be transported in low-seam mines.

The availability of suitable amenities often stands in the way of female participation in the mining industry. Enter MineARC’s EnviroLAV toilet – a safe, durable and functional option.

Founded in Perth in 1999, MineARC has become a spearhead in facilitating operational safety in many different industries.

In the same year the organisation was established it developed the world’s first carbon monoxide/carbon dioxide scrubber to assist in the decontamination of air within refuge chambers.

Today, MineARC has a global footprint, with offices and manufacturing hubs in Australia, South Africa, Chile, China, Mexico, United States and Europe, and distribution extending into almost 70 countries.

One of the company’s leading innovations, the EnviroLAV toilet, facilitates improved accessibility for one of life’s inevitabilities.

Ill-maintained toilets can pose safety risks in underground mining operations, an issue that extends beyond an uninhibited stench.

Underground spaces can be contaminated if toilets haven’t been tended to and overflow, something further exacerbated by the inherent poor air quality of these working basements.

Equally important is the wellbeing of workers, who don’t deserve the irritation of a blown underground loo. 

This is where MineARC’s EnviroLAV toilet comes to the fore. The EnviroLAV can operate for extended periods of time without being emptied.

“The EnviroLAV is quite a unique product in that it can remain underground for very, very long periods of time without the requirement of frequent emptying,” MineARC’s business development manager for ancillary products Shane Bushell says.

“When we say long periods of time, it can be up to 12 months in the right conditions.”

The EnviroLAV toilet can be used for up to 12 months without being emptied.

The toilet is a mainstay, constantly working and continually managing its sewerage on the go.

Bushell says the system works in such a way that it breaks down the waste on an ongoing basis. It effectively uses a combination of air and eco-friendly chemicals to create a bacterial environment underneath the toilet.

“It breaks down the waste and then the water which is flushed through is evaporated,” he says.

“It provides a very hygienic and efficient solution that can allow for much longer periods underground.”

The EnviroLAV has unique configurations tailored to hard rock environments and coal mining operations, along with different variations depending on the size of the space and needs of the client.

“In our hard rock options, we’ve got three sizes – the compact and the standard footprint, which are both a single cubicle, and then the dual toilet which gives you two cubicles,” Bushell says.

“Each of these operate in the same way. Obviously the smaller, compact design is great for small footprints – very restricted areas, and then the standard and the dual are applicable in larger areas.”

Often regarded the most dangerous of mining environments due in part to the presence of methane gas and combustible dust, underground coal mines offer up their own hazards.

“The Coal-Spec EnviroLAV toilet is quite a unique product in that it can be utilised in an underground coal mine, and it is intrinsically safe,” Bushell says.

MineARC also provides a solution to cater for the unpredictable heights of an underground coal mine.

“We’ve got a very specific coal toilet which is called a Modular Coal-Spec and in essence what it does is allow the roof to be lowered so you can transport the unit in low-seam mines,” Bushell says.

“Then once you’ve identified where the toilet is going to be positioned, you can actually extend the roof back up – the sides effectively fold into place and you again have a solid, private, secure structure to provide the facilities underground.”

Female accessibility is an ongoing issue in the mining industry and the availability of suitable amenities can often stand in the way of female participation in the sector.

Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s 2019-20 scorecard showed women accounted for 18 per cent of the mining industry at that time – a small rise from 17 per cent in 2018-19.

Of the 19 industries represented in the report, mining employed the lowest proportion of females in 2019-20.

AusIMM’s 2021 Women in Mining Survey found that 67 per cent of female respondents rated amenities on mine sites as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ – a 7.5 per cent improvement from past years. 

Ill-maintained toilets can pose safety risks in underground mining operations.

However, for women working in fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) and drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) mining roles, over 20 per cent say the cleanliness and hygiene of amenities is ‘occasionally’ an issue for them; over 10 per cent say it is ‘frequently’ an issue for them.

While there’s still room for improvement for the mining industry to make a reliable and lasting case for its female accessibility and safety, Bushell says the sector is taking the issue head on.

“I deal with many different clients, with many different philosophies of how they are providing facilities and certainly there are some clients who will simply buy on an as-need basis, so as their diversity increases and they have more women underground they will then provide more EnviroLAVs to suit the purpose,” he says.

“There are other companies that have been proactive in deciding ‘if we build it, they will come’, so they’ve actually provided the facilities underground with the view that it will allow them to attract a more diverse workforce.”

Bushell says companies often understand the overarching shortfalls in female accessibility and make their case in the interview process, highlighting their efforts in providing more toilets and more hygienic options.

The EnviroLAV has established a strong reputation, but MineARC are continually improving the product to ensure it keeps up with an ever-evolving sector.

“It’s always evolving. The foundations of it, we’re very comfortable with, but like any product, it always changes to suit the market and to suit our clients,” Bushell says.

The EnviroLAV is made at MineARC’s Perth headquarters in Kewdale, meaning the company has proximity on its side.

“We are very close to the source as far as what the product is and how it can be improved, so we’re always looking at ways to make it more efficient and facilitate an easier workflow so there’s less downtime and shorter lead times,” Bushell says. 

This article appears in the November issue of Safe to Work Magazine. 

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