Mining Program Area: Emergency Response and Rescue
When mine workers’ lives are in danger, mine emergency response systems must function rapidly and competently. The hierarchy of response actions begins with self-escape, then first responders and/or fire brigades, and finally mine rescue teams. If there is a breakdown in self-escape and initial responders are not successful, then the deployment of mine rescue teams is necessary. Mine workers may enter underground refuges, in which case rescuers are the time-critical link to helping them return safely to the surface.
Just as in firefighting, mine rescue team members accept some personal risk to save the lives of others. Hence, it is essential that the U.S. mine rescue teams are fully equipped with state-of-the-art technology, achieve competence with professional trainers, and receive guidance from the best available mine emergency response experts.
Emergency situations can include medical and trauma emergencies, roof falls or slope failures with entrapment, and mine fires and explosions. While there are many different kinds of emergency situations, adequate planning and preparation will ensure an effective response. Realistic simulations of emergencies and evaluation of competencies are needed to ensure responders are prepared. Effective response in turn will allow mine operators to deal with the situations, protect both workers and citizens during response events, and return the operation to production as quickly as possible with the fewest possible injuries.
Over 60,000 mine works are employed at underground mines. As of April 2012, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reports the following numbers for available company and state operated mine rescue teams: 193 coal, 24 coal surface, 173 metal/nonmetal (M/NM), and 20 M/NM surface. The Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) research program goal is to enhance the safety and effectiveness of escaping mine workers and emergency responders. This can be accomplished by developing realistic training simulations and through research to improve, develop, and/or identify technology useful for rescue, exploration, recovery, firefighting, escape, and evacuation.
OMSHR does research in emergency response and rescue from mine emergencies, including organizational and individual response, traumatic incident stress, worker expectations, and incident command center coordination. The new Mine Rescue and Escape Training Lab is investigating how virtual reality simulations could be used to shorten the emergency response learning curve for new employees and to retrain the existing teams and workforce.
A systematic mine worker escape and safe rescue strategy is necessary when mine accidents such as fires or explosions occur and lives are in danger. Mine workers have not always escaped U.S. coal mine accidents, and rescuers have not always reached trapped or barricaded mine workers in time to save their lives. OMSHR is investigating how to help the underground coal industry develop resilient mine workers who are capable of timely self-escape under adverse conditions and hazardous atmospheres, first responders and mine rescue teams who are capable of rapid, state-of-the-art safe rescue, and management organizations that effectively support these goals.
As a result of training under more realistic conditions, teams have been able to perform at a higher level, have found and extinguished difficult mine fires, and have successfully explored in heavy smoke filled entries when less experienced teams could not. As a result of OMSHR’s research, multiple training facilities are now available in the United States to provide simulated mine emergency training in compliance with the spirit of the MINER Act of 2006. Examples of OMSHR’s ongoing research include initiatives such as (1) revolutionizing the breathing air supply technology employed by self-contained self-rescuers, refuge alternatives, and emergency responders; (2) creating virtual reality simulations for training in non-hazardous environments; (3) jump starting the technology transfer of communication and tracking systems; and (4) supporting industry initiatives to develop public training venues.
Currently, the Mine Rescue and Escape Training Laboratory is being used to determine optimal use of virtual reality technologies for training and assessing mine emergency responders. Responders include specially trained individuals, such as mine rescue or fire brigade team members, and also managers and mine workers who may be called upon to respond to an emergency situation.
Mine rescue simulations and in-mine smoke training exercises have been developed, conducted, and evaluated in cooperation with state agencies and mining companies. For example, OMSHR conducted 97 realistic mine rescue and fire brigade team training exercises or smoke evacuation drills at the Lake Lynn Laboratory, Safety Research Coal Mine, or operating mines; 449 teams have participated, many multiple times.
During the underground exercises, rescue teams explored and mapped smoke-filled passageways, searched for missing mine workers, administered first aid to injured mine workers, supported bad roof by erecting standing support, re-established ventilation, and completed other scenarios. Team members also fought liquid fuel and gas fires and conveyor belt fires on the surface or underground with dry chemical powder, high-expansion foam, and waterlines. Improved technologies such as lighted vests, thermal imaging cameras, wireless communications systems, gas detector simulators, and lifelines are also evaluated during these exercises.
Gas monitor simulator (GMS) training methods were tested with coal and M/NM mine rescue teams (in contests and training) and fire brigades. Historically, paper placards were used to convey gas concentration data during training or contests. The GMS allows trainers to wirelessly send gas data to trainees through a device that is similar in size to an actual gas detector. The device has optional visual and audible alarms and was found to increase the realism of training.
Each underground coal mine worker must be trained in the proper procedures for inspecting and donning self-contained self-rescuers (SCSR), switching from one unit to another, and ensuring a proper fit. Researchers at OMSHR developed a procedure for switching from one SCSR to another and developed expectations training to teach mine workers what to expect from the SCSR unit during an emergency and what to expect from themselves and fellow workers during escape