Coal industry must get tougher

Manufacturer calls for tough new refuge chamber guidelines in the underground coal industry.

A Western Australian manufacturer of mine rescue chambers is concerned that a tragedy may be the catalyst for Australia’s underground coal industry to increase safety benchmarks relating to the use of underground refuge chambers.

MineARC Systems general manager Mike Lincoln told MINING DAILY that China and the United States have moved forward very quickly to develop improved safety guidelines for the use of refuge chambers, and suggests Australia should also lead the way on this issue.

In the US, refuge chamber guidelines were overhauled following multiple deaths in the Sago Mine disaster, a coal mine explosion on January 2, 2006, in Sago, West Virginia.

“The guideline for best practice in the Australian hard rock industry is to provide a safe place for miners within 750 m of where they’re working, so refuge chambers are placed 1.5 km apart in the hard rock industry,” Lincoln said.

“Stand alone, with no mine air or power coming in to the unit, those units can operate for 36 hours with the life saving characteristics that are required.

“Those characteristics include oxygen to breathe, air conditioning to keep it cool, and a scrubbing system the air of CO and CO2.”

There are differences in the use of refuge chambers in the coal industry, according to Lincoln.

“It is a bit different in the coal industry. Instead of saying that these are a refuge for their workers, what they are looking for are changeover stations,” Lincoln said.

“If there’s an incident the coal operators look to get out of the mine in the first instance, and the miners will actually use their breathing apparatus and work their way out of the mine using changeover stations.

“The US basically had the same sort of regulations for the underground coal industry up until December last year (following the Sago incident); until they changed the guidelines to say that refuge chambers are required to provide life saving characteristics for 96 hours.”

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