Mining Program Area: Refuge Alternatives
The purpose of this program area is greatly improve mine workers’ chance of surviving a disaster by providing them with the most effective refuge alternatives and to help them understand when to use refuges and how to find and operate them.
The primary research questions initially address the effectiveness of refuge alternatives for providing a survivable environment. Doubts exist about the effectiveness of current refuges because they were rapidly implemented in U.S. underground coal mines. Specific questions have been raised about purging and heat and humidity. If noxious gases are not effectively purged from the airlock or main chamber, a breathable atmosphere cannot be obtained. Excessive heat and humidity inside a refuge creates significant health risks and can render the refuge uninhabitable. Understanding and improving these areas is necessary to make the most survivable refuges available to mine workers post-disaster.
A second area of questions involves training mine workers to find and operate refuge alternatives. As part of a recent OMSHR-funded contract, U.S. coal mining accidents since 1970 were reviewed to determine whether the availability of a refuge would have helped save mine workers’ lives. The review encompassed all ignitions, explosions, fires, and inundations where at least one worker was killed. The results indicate that refuge chambers would have had a positive impact on the outcome of 12 of 38 such events. The researchers conclude, “a total of 74 of the 252 fatalities (29%) would have been positively impacted and potentially would have survived the accident.” About 40,000 mine workers are employed in U.S. underground coal mines. They all need effective training on locating and using refuge chambers before the next mine disaster strikes.
This ongoing work is vitally important to provide mine workers’ who choose to refuge after a disaster with the best chances of survival. First, if mine workers are forced to choose to refuge after a disaster, they must have the confidence that the refuge alternative will provide a survivable environment. OMSHR research efforts are designed to provide the most survivable refuge alternatives, which will elevate a mine worker’s confidence in choosing to refuge. In addition, the safety and health of mine workers is greatly enhanced by OMSHR research efforts concerning post-disaster training to help workers find and operate refuge alternatives post-disaster. Mine workers can be provided with the most survivable refuge alternatives, but if they cannot deploy them or obtain a breathable environment, survival is not likely.
OMSHR’s research approach is unique because it addresses the most relevant and critical research questions using a multi-faceted approach that includes both in-house and contract research efforts. A team of engineers, scientists, sociologists, and behavioral scientists is addressing the survivability and training issues and conducting technology transfer efforts to present the results to the mining community. Contract efforts are used to supplement in-house research efforts and expertise.
OMSHR researchers developed, field tested, and published a suite of six refuge chamber training modules to address the training needs in the following areas:
- Operations: how to operate a refuge chamber.
- Decision-making: what alternatives to consider when deciding whether to enter a refuge chamber.
- Expectations: what to expect physiologically and psychologically when seeking shelter in a refuge chamber.
They have also published two reports containing recommendations for (1) conducting effective refuge chamber operations training, and (2) creating effective manuals to teach mine workers how to set up, inspect, move, and maintain refuge chambers.