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When a mine operation compiles a safety strategy, where should it exert the most effort and investment of finance, HR resource, and time? Should it put in a double effort to ensure that the accident never happens? Or should it resort to the fact that ‘banking on never’ is not a viable option, rather ensuring that the rescue team is ready and very able when disaster strikes?

Does a mine operation balance its resources 50/50, 40/60, or 30/70? Is prevention or rescue its priority? Of course the simple answer is to apply 100% effort to both. But a combined equation of 200% effort and investment does not make mathematical sense, and more often than not a mine operation has to prioritise the focus of its safety strategy. This article focuses both on the prevention and rescue sides of the conundrum, with specific reference to the use of technology for safe recovery of missing mine workers.

The Lily Mine Collapse – Rescue technology

In February 2016, three workers of the Lily Mine, owned by Vantage Goldfields, became trapped underground when the lamp room, a converted shipping container where they were on duty, collapsed into an 80m sinkhole created by a collapsed crown pillar before being covered by huge rocks. Sophisticated electro-magnetic technology identified that the container with three missing employees was 12 metres away. Vantage Goldfields chief executive Mike McChesney said rescue workers would use vibration technology to loosen the rock. “Getting rid of the huge rock is dangerous, but with the new technology it will be safer to loosen it and bring it down, without sending workers in there to do it.” Earlier 87 workers, who had been trapped underground, had all been rescued.

Hexagon Mining Eye Scanner – Preventive technology

In Queensland, Australia, technology borrowed from the aviation industry was implemented in mines, making them safer. This included GPS systems, radars, eye scanners, and electromagnetic fields. Martin Leggat, a mine surveyor in Queensland, said his life was saved by collision avoidance technology. “I was driving along in a light vehicle, came to an intersection and looked both ways, as you do,” he said. Leggat didn’t see anything, started to accelerate, the alarm went off, and alerted him that a truck was coming, thereby saving his life. Read Collision Avoidance article here.

AngloGold Ashanti – Preventive technology

In 2014, AngloGold Ashanti CEO, Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan, stated in their Annual Sustainable Development Report, that they “fully recognise that one life lost is one too many and will continue to work to achieve zero harm.” (http://www.anglogoldashanti.com/en/Media/Reports/Sustainability%20Reports/Sustainable%20Development%20Report%202014.pdf)

DThis commitment was evident in AngloGold Ashanti’s undertaking to implement effective technology in its mines. In August of the same year, 3300 people working underground at its Great Noligwa and Moab Khotsong mines, were safely hoisted to the surface after a 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck them. Extensions to the Ethernet backbone and Profitek’s Minelert Lost Persons Detection System had been in operation for more than 18 months, when this incident took place. (Download the Lost Person Detection Spec Sheet.) It took the mine only 20 minutes to locate all 3,300 people working underground in the Moab Khotsong shaft that day, proving that a mine’s infrastructure can respond as it was designed to for the purpose of safety.

Summary

Whether the primary drive should be towards prevention or rescue in terms of its safety strategy, will always remain a debatable matter, a conundrum in the hands of the mine operator and safety officer. But the fact of the matter is that technology develops at a rapid pace, and it is essential that those who are armed with the responsibility to role out emergency response plans make themselves aware of this fast-paced evolution. A mine rescue operation is only as strong as it’s weakest link. The weakest link can be turned into an asset with the use of technological advancement. An example of such a use of technology lies in the application of Profitek’s Minelert technology that has transformed a lamp room from what was traditionally a high risk factor where flame safety lamps were issued, to an asset and a safety hub whereby Profitek’s Minelert wireless technology now tracks miners by means of tracking tags on miners’ lamp caps. If a mine operation fails to use the best available technology to ensure the safety of its people, whether for preventive or rescue application, it fails its people.

Lost Person Detection System