Safe Coal Mining 2018

Coal has been an indispensable resource since time immemorial. It has not lost its importance now. But how different the mining technologies and safety procedures are compared to the old times?

The importance of coal

Historically, countries that own coal deposits gained a huge economic boost in the past. Its use in steam trains and boats resolved transportation and trade problems for many generations living between 1770 and 1914. Take, for example, Great Britain: its industrial and military strength was literally fueled up with coal which secured the country a solid position in nowadays economy.

Coal fueled the very first electric plant designed by Edison in 1882 and thus firmly established itself as a reliable and relatively cheap energy source. The green anti-coal activists might shout out that it's dirty and inefficient and yet projected consumption rates are bound to beat that of any other power-generating resource for at least 10 years more . It will still provide about 25% of globally produced energy by then. Even if real observation shows that consumption rates drop in the US (because of environmental concerns), exported coal still burns somewhere else, and the rates rise worldwide.

Many nations profited from coal hundreds of years ago. And just keep consuming more of it, if possible. China is the number one consumer of coal, and such a behavior is tightly connected to China's overall economic growth. The US comes next, India is number three. Pakistan, Bangladesh and some parts of Southeast Asia are coming up with rising demand for cheap, sustainable energy.

In the 20 th century and on, coal still remained an irreplaceable resource for steel production.

The importance of coal is out of the question, yet considering the fact that its mining remained the second deadliest job in 2006, new safety procedures and techs must be designed on par with environment protection ones.

Hazards of mining

Various kinds of damp pose a threat to the health and life of miners. Depending on the composition of gasses in damp, it causes adverse health conditions, suffocation, or explosions that may lead to mine roof collapse.

The collapse itself may happen without preceding explosion, possibly entombing miners underground and also causing ground subsidence. Any buildings that happen to be above such a mine will be critically damaged.

Seemingly insignificant mechanical threats, like noises of heavy machinery (which leads to occupational hearing loss) and whole-body vibration harm workers' health in the long run.

The equipment itself is the other source of danger.

Powered haulage (haul trucks, front loaders, conveyor belts, etc.) has already caused 2 deaths in 2018. The most recent one happened this March with a 29-old man who had eight years of working experience.

The other known recent accident is when a haul truck squashed a passenger van. These trucks have huge blind spots because of their enormous size, so no wonder. Thankfully, everyone survived, but that definitely rang the bell that trucks needed more sensors and probably autopilot techs like Tesla cars.

In general, any machinery that has moving parts, like drills or power shovels, is as dangerous as powered haulage. On average, around 4 workers a year died due to each of these in the period of 2011-2015. The conclusion is, the death rate due to these factors has not dropped effectively in almost a decade in the US.

The other two categories of accidents are “Fall of face, rib, or highwall” and “Fall of roof or back.” The former refers to human-made construction in mines while the latter is about mine's natural roof or back collapse. There are about 2 fatalities annually that fall into each of these categories.

Slip and fall accidents take the lives of one person a year on average, as of 2011-2015.

Electricity damage is seemingly uncommon, however proper isolation is on the mind of safety leaders, too.

Not only miners are in danger. The most notable incident caused by coal mine waste products happened in 1966 in Wales resulting in 144 total dead, 116 of which were children. The recent incident, Obed Mountain coal mine spill, happened just in 2013 due to the improper wastewater management, and the whole Athabasca River ended up polluted with loads of toxic chemicals.

China's mining safety breakthrough in 2012

China is known to produce twice as much coal as the US, being the world's top one. Sadly, fatality rates there, before 2012, were four times higher.

The Shenhua Group is the largest coal producer in China, and they designed a unique safety training that, complemented with mine modernization, led to a hard-won fatality rate drop . If in the period of 2007-2012, one person died every 33 million tonnes of coal mined, in 2012 it was one death per 232 tons - seven times fewer casualties. Now Chinese mines are actually safer than many American ones.

How did they achieve it?

It's nothing remarkable. The methodology is partially based on The Heinrich Rule.

The Heinrich rule claims that for every incident that causes major injury, there's approx - 30 incidents that cause minor injury and 300 ones that cause no injury. Analyzing common incidents that cause no injuries gives enough data to prevent serious ones in the future.

Miners are encouraged to seek and identify potential threats proactively, assess risks, apply risk management standards and measures, monitor the threat and pre-alarm it. This way, the threat is eliminated before it can cause any damage.

Numbers of sensors are located all around a mine to feed data to info terminals which are the actual tools of threat management.

Every worker is obliged to pass relevant training to be able to avail of the system maximally. Naturally, top managers provide feedback to improve the interface and functionality even further.

Health and safety priorities of 2018

General priorities of mining safety have shifted to long-term miner health and tech improvements lately. Some of the notable innovations demonstrated and discussed at the Mining Safety Conferences of 2017-2018 were:

•           improved equipment covers with better isolation and reduced handling risks;

•           focus on dust management: ventilation, water pulverization, and respirators;

• strata monitoring : soil pressure is observed all the time to reduce the risks of mine collapse;

•           fiber optic connectors that allow safer utilization of electricity ;

•           SAFE STOP, anti-door jamb unit that increases the safety of operator cabin doors ;

•           various portable equipment that measures isolation, gas pressure and consistency, etc.;

•           improved glove materials , protective, comfortable, and environment-friendly;

• drone usage .

The lives of people that deal with the various hazards of mining are the best investment for any industry in the long run. Considering the world demand for coal and the danger level of mining, safety innovations are crucial for this industry. Keep up the good work!