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The MERP Guidelines for the mining industry state, “Management shall test procedures and evaluate performance of personnel in practice drills on a regular basis to develop and build upon a reliable response system. The ERP should include a plan for conducting and reviewing practice drills. Drills should cover all actions ranging from the moment of discovery to the marshaling and deployment of emergency response teams, and should include setting up both the Incident Command Post and the Emergency Operations Centre and establishing communications.”

Training drills should be part and parcel of every mine’s ERP.  Records of previous drills will influence the ERP and should be reviewed and considered by the team who develops or refines the most current ERP. The following case study serves as a practical example of the conducting of a practice drill. It gives a framework or a reference for the safety officer or the team leader charged with designing the ERP. Naturally he or she will set up a unique drill that serves the requirements of the given mine company.

Kestrel South Coal Mine in Central Queensland, Australia

In Queensland, Australia, it is compulsory for all underground coal mines to run simulations every year in order to test their mine emergency response plans. This well planned exercise of emergency procedures in mines provides inestimable experience to industry and workers, and plays a vital role in improving mine safety systems.

Kestrel South is an underground longwall coalmine. The simulated accident occurs at the end of a shift. An underground conveyor over-runs, creating a pile-up of coal at the transfer of the main underground conveyor and the drift conveyor. A faulty conveyor belt idler ignites the coal, resulting in a coal spillage fire. The pollutant from the fire rapidly spreads around the mine, requiring evacuation by coalmine workers using self-contained self-rescuers and compressed air-breathing apparatus (CABA). A video was recorded exhibiting on one crew’s evacuation during the level 1 emergency exercises. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=efTzfqxu6Mo)

Here follows a transcript of the video explaining the timeline of events.

At 8:56 a.m. the explosion risk zone (ERZ) controller, received a personal emergency device message from the control room to call in.

At 9:00 a.m. the ERZ controller was informed of high carbon monoxide levels in the pit bottom area and told to gather the 403 crew together.

At 9:07 a.m. the ERZ controller informed the control room the 403 crew would be evacuating, all workers were accounted for and they would call again from the tag board at the end of the gate road.

The EZR controller explains the situation and how to use CABA-

At 9:10 a.m. the 403 crew left the inbye crib room. The crew donned self-contained self-rescuers and headed to the tag board at the end of the gate road by vehicle.

At 9:12 a.m. the crew were informed smoke could be seen, at which time they donned their CABA suits. Three of the crew had been provided with vision-impaired facemasks to simulate low vision. A couple of the workers encountered small issues donning their CABA suits and were assisted by other crew members. It is important for all mine workers to know where safety equipment is stored and how to use it – such as knowing how to fit and use a self-contained self-rescuer or CABA and where their refill stations are located.

The crew gets off transporter for refill

The ERZ controller asked the crew to check their pressure gauges frequently, and a refill was conducted on the way out. The evacuation under impaired visibility was assisted with the use of blind man’s sticks. The ERZ controller received information on the location of the fire and confirmed his planned evacuation route. While the CABA allows communication, the ERZ controller had to repeat what he was saying to the control room officer when he called to report on progress. It is important for mine workers to follow all safety procedures and the ERZ controller’s instructions. The controller should check in regularly with the control room. After their CABA refill, the 403 crew returned to the vehicle and travelled to the next CABA station where they were joined by the Mains crew. The crew operated well under restricted vision with the use of blind man’s sticks. Walking pace with restricted vision was well organized and the workers did not outpace anyone. The ERZ controller ensured he communicated with the surface regularly on the way out.

The ERZ controller checks his team off

At 17 cut-through in the mains, the ERZ controller was informed of a broken-down vehicle and there was fresh air at 10 cut-through in the mains. The crews were informed a vehicle was being sent down to bring them out. They correctly made the decision to walk up the drift and meet the vehicle. The evacuation was conducted on foot to the pit bottom. The crew conducted a number of CABA refills along the way and the ERZ controller regularly communicated with the surface. At 3 cut-through the ERZ controller checked the gas readings and found them clear, so the crews took their self-rescuers off.

EZR controller explains how to take off the CABA-

At 11:00 a.m., the workers were on the surface and the ERZ controller was debriefed on the situation from 11.05 a.m. to 11.20  a.m.. The 17th level 1 mine emergency exercise was successfully conducted and the various crews performed their emergency response and evacuation duties well. All aspects of the mine’s response were professionally conducted, demonstrating the mine’s commitment to the Mine Emergency Management System process.

The key recommendations resulting out of this exercise follows underneath. Details hereof are available in the full reports of the exercise.  (https://publications.qld.gov.au/dataset/queensland-level-1-mine-emergency-exercise-reports)

  • Convene a forum to discuss the Mines Emergency Management System (MEMS) and possible amendments, as well as review the Mine Re-entry Assessment System (MRAS) to ensure it can be used effectively and quickly.
  • Conduct a forum to discuss the outcomes from level 1 and 2 exercises and consolidate all the recommendations from the previous level 1 emergency exercises.
  • Modify emergency procedures to include current emergency activation numbers.
  • Standardize across industry the system for guiding workers into SCSR/CABA locations (e.g. droppers across roadways, lifelines guiding into locations, wind chimes and colour use for secondary escape ways).
  • Make an emergency winding capability available in Queensland, including suitable capsules for extracting coal mine workers out of boreholes/shafts.

 Summary

This case study serves as a blueprint for similar exercises. Much thought should be put into developing the brief for the case study.  The Team Leader needs to ensure that the ERP is thoroughly assessed and that rescue teams and the relevant parties are exposed to a comprehensive training drill. Obviously it essential to record all actions of all parties during the drill so that a thorough assessment can be compiled of the effectiveness of the ERP as demonstrated by the training drill. A detail report should be written, and if necessary, modify the ERP.

best practices in emergency response plan design