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How safe are underground refuge bays?

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How safe are underground refuge bays?
The exercise involved a group of 12 volunteers who spent over 30-hours underground at Kangra’s Balgarthen Shaft while being monitored around the clock through cameras connected to a control room. Image credit: Kangra Coal

How safe are underground refuge bays?

Important information was gathered at a simulated emergency procedure at  Kangra Coal’s underground mine in South Africa.   

The simulated emergency procedure was conducted in collaboration with Coaltech, a non-profit organisation focused on coal industry research, and the South African Colliery Managers’ Association.

The aim of the exercise was to assess the life-sustainability of underground refuge bays. Refuge bays serve as sanctuaries for miners during emergency situations like fires and explosions, offering temporary protection until rescue operations can be safely executed.

How safe are underground refuge bays?
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Research yields valuable insights

According to Kangra’s Mine Manager, Pieter du Preez, the simulated drill went beyond the usual daily safety checks and assessments at mines. By mimicking a real-life scenario, the research test yielded valuable insights into the strengths and limitations of existing refuge bay facilities.

“I think the experiment was extremely important and we gained vital learnings that will not only benefit Kangra, but the coal mining industry in South Africa as a whole,” says Du Preez.

The exercise involved a group of 12 volunteers who spent over 30-hours underground at Kangra’s Balgarthen Shaft while being monitored around the clock through cameras connected to a control room.

With the assistance of Ex Solutio, a company that develops advanced mining safety systems, the Coaltech team assessed the physical conditions inside the refuge bay. This entailed compiling readings on temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, ventilation flow, various gases, and dust. Participants received essentials like food and water through a rescue borehole.

Building life sustaining underground facilities   

Coaltech Project Leader, Inus Labuschagne, explained that this is part of ongoing research efforts to assess the structural components required to build a life sustaining facility underground.

The second leg of the study, which took place at Kangra, investigated how individuals trapped in an emergency are affected while inside the bay. Labuschagne emphasised the critical need for life-sustaining facilities during emergencies and the importance of providing necessities like fresh air, water, food, medication during rescue operations.

“The learnings of this research exercise at Kangra will serve the colliery industry in South Africa, assisting us to establish what measures should be taken to ensure that we do not fail individuals in traumatic situations,” he says.

Coaltech intends to publish a comprehensive report based on the research containing findings and recommendations to be shared with industry stakeholders.

After researchers had gathered enough data, members of Kangra’s Proto team were briefed to retrieve the volunteers from the refuge bay. Moments after walking out of the bay, volunteer, and safety officer at the mine, Lordwin Malatji expressed relief at the initiative’s success. “It was a difficult task, but we learned a lot from the experience and the importance of emergency preparedness,” Malatji says.

Menar Group Health & Safety Manager, Ricardo Van Rooi emphasises the importance of continuous learning, identifying potential emergency scenarios, allocating necessary resources, and conducting frequent emergency drills.

“By sharing learnings and best practices derived from the emergency drill simulation, industry stakeholders can work towards achieving Zero Harm,” concludes Van Rooi.

How safe are underground refuge bays?

 

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