mining legislation

Although requirements for mining communication differs from one country and region to the next, increasingly stricter regulations across the board leaves no doubt that legislation is and will continue to push mining operations to improve their communication systems. The good news: improved technology is providing mine operators with an abundance of smart innovations that helps mines to comply with legislation while improving efficiency and production at the same time.

USA: Communications and Tracking Regulations

According to the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of June 15, 2006 (MINER Act) mine operators must adopt underground communications and electronic tracking (CT) systems that meet specific performance goals aimed at improving the safety of miners.

This act entails two phases in terms of required communication and tracking capabilities:

  1. Effective 60 days after enactment of MINER Act, i.e. 13 August 2006: An effective electronic system that provides Two-way communication and Lost Persons Tracking in emergency situations
  2. Effective 1 year after enactment of MINER Act, i.e. 15 June 2009: An effective wireless system that provides Two-way communication and Lost Persons Tracking in emergency situations

Latest wireless technology for mobile communication and location information

mining communications

At the time that the MINER act was signed into law the Wireless technology needed to fulfil the requirements for wireless communications and location information between underground workers and surface personnel in emergency incidents was still fairly primitive and unfamiliar to mining professionals. Here are some advances in wireless network systems tailored to rugged underground mining conditions that have been deployed by deep mining operations since then:

Mobile communications: Two-way communication requirement

The MINER act states that Text messaging is acceptable as method for two-way communication and can include pre-programmed messages that provide enough information to convey status of miners, mine conditions, and appropriate emergency response information. However, when text messaging is deployed to fulfil this requirement mine operators must ensure that all persons working or traveling underground are capable of understanding and responding to text messages.

Advanced wireless network technology makes it possible to implement mobile voice communications (VoWiFi) as fulfilment of this requirement, which eliminates the obstacle of literacy while it is also generally accepted to be the best method to coordinate an effective emergency.

Mobile communications: Personally issued communications device

The MINER act requires that every group of miners is equipped with an untethered communications device. A device can be shared by a group of miners as long as they are working or traveling within sight and sound of each other and the untethered device is accessible to all members of the group.

Current developments in terms of mobile handsets have improved the affordability of devices by making use of readily available Android devices, making it possible for operations to issue mobile handsets to each individual worker.

Mobile communications: Untethered communications devices that work from inside a prefabricated steel refuge alternative (RA)

According to the MINER act mobile signals must be able to communicate information from within a steel RA without violating the airtight condition of the shelter.

Forward moves in terms of modular network technology have proven highly successful for implementing real-time communications in underground mining environments, even in deep mine systems where Line of Sight (LoS) is almost non-existent. By strategically positioning tag controllers and network switches in various underground areas one of South Africa’s deepest mines has achieved 100 km of continuous WiFi coverage to enable mobile communications across the operation.

Location tracking: Positioning of LPDS readers

The MINER act requires lost persons trackers to be installed at the loading point in any entry or at the load centre for each entry, as long as the location of a miner is relative to a fixed point. Program Policy Letter P11-V-13 states that all tracking systems must be capable of locating miners within 200 feet, which applies even to a longwall face and in low coal mines.

Development of Lost Persons Detection (LPD) systems is making available reliable tracking information for emergency situations as well as hazard prevention. By installing a complete WiFi network infrastructure and equipping individuals with active tags their immediate location can be determined within an instant. Alternatively, tagged individuals can be located through Close Proximity Detection (CPD) technology in situations where a full WiFi infrastructure is not available.

Ps. If you’d like to know more about how the latest in WiFi technology is being applied for communication and tracking in mining, download your FREE copy of the Mine Safety 101 eBook now!

Underground Mine Safety