mine safety rescue

Sean Ford describes the safety paradox of the mining industry by saying that, “Miners work very hard to avoid safety incidents, but also need high-standard emergency response teams for when they do happen.”

A Tale of Two Mine Quakes: Poland

An incident that occurred at Wujek-Ruch Sląsk mine in southern Poland in 2015, once again highlights this paradox.

According to the local Crisis Management Centre an earthquake occurred at a depth of 1,050 meters at 16 minutes after midnight on the 18th of April. Although the area where the quake occurred was not operational at that time, shaft clearance procedures identified that two of the miners who had been working on the shift were unaccounted for.

Hurdles in Safe Recovery of Missing Mine Workers

  • Wojciech Jaros, a spokesperson for Katowicki Holding Węglowy which operates the mine, confirmed that the search party would have to smash through some of the walls by hand.
  • A series of tunnels would have to be drilled, to make it possible for camera equipment to try and locate the miners.
  • As a result of the destruction of the quake, rescuers had to move slowly through rubble and damaged machine parts, which hampered and slowed down the process.
  • Emergency efforts were ongoing for a period of eight days, and operations had to be halted on one level of the mine due to the rescue efforts.

Although the company vowed not to give up before they find the missing miners, the Wujek mine had still not managed to reach the miners a month later, according to a Polish news source (Republika).

A Tale of Two Mine Quakes: South Africa

On 5 August 2014, AngloGold Ashanti confirmed that an earthquake rating 5.3 on the Richter scale occurred near their Vaal River operations in South Africa – affecting their Great Noligwa and Moab Khotsong mines at a depth of approximately 8 km.

Network Technology for Safe Recovery of Missing Mine Workers

Extensions to the AngloGold Ashanti Ethernet backbone and a Lost Persons Detection System (Profitek’s Minelert) had been in operation for more than 18 months, when this incident took place at and put the system to the ultimate test.

With the help of the Lost Persons Detection System, it took the mine only 20 minutes to locate all 3,300 people working underground in the Moab Khotsong shaft that day. The earthquake occurred late afternoon, but by 7:30 pm AngloGold Ashanti confirmed that all 3,300 mineworkers had been safely hoisted to the surface.

Mike O’Hare, AngloGold Ashanti’s Chief Operating Officer for South Africa declared his praise for all involved,

“Safely hoisting all 3,300 people to surface after an earthquake of this size is an achievement of which we’re immensely proud. Our infrastructure responded as it was designed to, and our safety protocols worked as they should. Our thanks go to every employee, the contractors on site and the management team who together made this outcome possible.”

Life and Death in Mine Safety

While underground quakes are unavoidable, mine safety technology such as Lost Persons Detection Systems can make the difference between life and death, and also prevent the operational downtime associated with prolonged search and rescue missions.

Underground Mine Safety