Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study to learn about responses on-site during the first crucial moments of a mine emergency in order to further improve response.
Recommendations from the study are focused on four key areas.
Preparation and planning
Mine operators need to ensure effective response when dealing with mine emergencies, protecting both workers and others during response events. This will allow the mine to return the operation to production as quickly as possible. Adequate planning and preparation for dealing with mine emergencies is essential to ensure an effective response. Preparedness suggests a well-rehearsed, comprehensive emergency plan. A good plan is based on accurate knowledge of known threats. All miners should be trained to understand and follow the mine emergency plan where they work. A comprehensive emergency response plan is risk-based and mine specific. Such a plan includes technical knowledge, mine specific knowledge, and escape conceptual knowledge. (The Mine Safety Technology & Training Commission report (2006))
Communication and information
Both technical and interpersonal communication play a central role in the first critical moments of a mine emergency response. The credibility of the source and the content of the message play an important role during an emergency response plan. The more credible the source, the quicker poeple are likely to respond. The more accurate the content, the better are the response decisions. The information workers must base their judgments on is often unclear, faulty, and incomplete. (Mallett, L.G., Vaught, C., Brnich, M.J. . Sociotechnical communication in an underground mine fires: A study of warning messages during an emergency evacuation. Safety Science, Elsevier, Issue 16, 709-728.)
Leadership and Trust
Leadership is a key issue in mine emergencies, for both the escaping miners and the rescue command center. Leaders need to be present and able to focus on the here and now. In a study that evaluated eight separate groups escaping from three separate underground coal mine fires six characteristics of a leader in escape from an underground fire were determined. These included:
- Incidental learning, being attentive to the environment;
- Leadership developed naturally, not coerced;
- Leaders were flexible, yet decisive;
- Leaders were open to input from others;
- Leaders provided a reassuring, calming effect for the escaping miners;
- Leaders used a logical decision-making process.
(Kowalski, K.M., Mallett, L., Brnich, M.J. . The Emergency of Leadership in a Crisis: A Study of Group Escapes from Fire in Underground Coal Mines. U.S Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Mines, IC 9385.)
Many experts consider training to be one of the most essential elements in the emergency response planning process.
- Employ realistic training that includes practice;
- Every person at the mine should be trained on the response plan, not just the rescue teams;
- Cross-training provides backup for filling crucial roles and an understanding of other jobs which can improve teamwork;
- Focus on miners in the training for mine emergency, not just on technical solutions;
- Decision making is a trained skill. Practice decision making based on different variables;
- Standardize communication, both technology and protocols;
- Teach miners about stress responses in an emergency to help them normalize their responses in an emergency situation;
- Include SCSR (self-contained self-rescuers) expectations training.
It is critical to understand what the important factors are in the initial response to a mine emergency. Such understanding provides direction for future mine emergency planning, response, and training. As is the case with all safety related matters, evaluating past outcomes will help improve initial response regarding planning, communication, leadership, training, and decision-making.