Underground mining: Complicated problems, simple solutions

Safety on site is all about removing the risk from the job, and the miner from unnecessarily hazardous operations.

Currently, with the push towards automation on site many mines are looking to create an automated process to carry out many of the previously time consuming and potentially dangerous tasks miners faced every day.
But sometimes the simple solutions are the best.

Every underground mine faces the same problem with dust in its tunnels and development panels, and currently most deal with the issue in the same way – using an auxiliary fan to disperse the stone dust.

This is crucial as not only does the dust make operations difficult, it also poses an inhalation risk to the workers.
But how do they deal with the dust from the fans themselves?

These typically require three workers to hang two massive one tonne bags, on chains, behind the exhaust of the auxiliary.

The set up time at best was around 45 minutes, with all three personnel, equating to 135 minutes of used time.
The whole hanging operation is a high risk, time consuming task.

But it did not have to be.

At Xstrata Coal Queensland's Newlands underground coal mine, the traditional solution for auxiliary fans was not good enough.

"Concerns were raised by the workforce as to the safest method for completing the task, as this was a common task performed by crews during panel advance" Xstrata Coal explained.

"The primary safety issues were manual handling of heavy loads, the risk of strain and sprain, working at heights, and working with suspended loads."

With the issues so clearly identified Newlands carried out a risk rating analysis on the process, identifying and discussing improvement opportunities.

The solution was surprisingly simple.

"After researching and reviewing our alternatives, we came to a decision and a modified QDS pod was designed to disperse the stone dust.

Xstrata used a QDS rubbish pod that was already on site, modifying it to incorporate a steel frame internally in the initial trials, christening it the Trickle Duster. 

The pod was designed specifically for positioning behind the exhaust of an auxiliary fan in a development panel.
The invention had an immediate effect on work at Newlands.

According to the company, since the implementation of the Trickle Duster it has cut down the number of people needed for the task from three to one, cut the set up time down to five minutes, which means quicker installation during panel advances and operators can now get two panel advances before refilling is required.

It also has a range of other benefits, such as no working at heights; no manual handling; no risk from suspended loads; no wastage compared to previously when wastage occasionally went on the floor; no rubbish such as empty bags or pallets to remove.

Xstrata Coal's Newlands underground mine was a finalist in the Prospect Awards for this innovation.

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