Mining Topic: Refuge Chambers
Refuge Chamber Training
What is the health and safety problem?
Over the years, several mine workers, such as those involved in the Sago mine explosion, have survived an initial disaster but later succumbed to toxic gases because they could not be rescued quickly enough. Since 2009, federal regulations require that refuge alternatives be installed in all U.S. underground coal mines. Refuges are intended to provide mine workers access to clean air, food, and water until they can be rescued. If mine workers understand when and how to properly use refuges, their chances of surviving disasters could be greatly improved.
What is the extent of the problem?
As part of a recent study funded by OMSHR, 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 mine 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 that, “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 work in U.S. underground coal mines. They all need effective training on the use of refuge chambers before the next mine disaster strikes.
How is OMSHR addressing this problem?
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) passed regulations in 2008 requiring that mine workers be given annual instruction on the deployment and use of refuge alternatives (see 30 CFR 75.1504(c)(3)). To help the coal industry comply with these regulations, and to help instructors teach mine workers about the use of refuge chambers, the Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) developed a suite of training modules covering:
- 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
By completing this training, mine workers will be better prepared to make educated decisions during emergencies such as fires or explosions, and will better understand the purpose and use of refuges.
What are the significant findings?
OMSHR researchers developed, field tested, and published six refuge chamber training modules to address the training needs described above. 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.
What are the next steps?
OMSHR is monitoring the industry and will continue to seek feedback from stakeholders on the need for future refuge chamber training research.
Noteworthy Publications & Products
- Emergency Escape & Refuge Alternatives (2010-10)
Emergency escape and refuge alternatives was created by a multidisciplinary team at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to teach miners about emergency escape and using refuge alternatives. The training is a Microsoft Power...
- Guidelines for Instructional Materials on Refuge Chamber Setup, Use, and Maintenance (2009-07)
NIOSH has created this document with suggestions for developing manuals and educational materials concerning refuge chambers for miners.
- Harry’s Hard Choices: Mine Refuge Chamber Training (2009-03)
This paper-and-pencil simulation teaches miners about issues related to self-rescue and escape, including information gathering, knowing one's escapeways, use of SCSRs, the value of multigas detectors, and when to enter a refuge chamber.
- How to Operate a Refuge Chamber: A Quick Start Guide (2010-10)
How to Operate a Refuge Chamber: A Quick Start Guide was created by researchers at NIOSH to be used as a template for mine instructors to modify based on the refuge chambers used at their mine.
- Man Mountain’s Refuge: Refuge Chamber Training Instructor’s Guide and Trainee’s Problem Book (2011-07)
This instructor’s guide is designed for use by instructors who train mine employees on how and when to use a mine refuge chamber, and aids the instructor in reinforcing the critical decisions that have to be made during a mining emergency.
- Recommendations for Refuge Chamber Operations Training (2011-06)
Refuge alternatives are airtight, reinforced shelters that underground coal miners can enter during a mine emergency. This publication provides recommendations for training miners in how to operate a refuge chamber.
- Refuge Chamber Expectations Training (2009-10)
Refuge Chamber Expectations Training was created by a multidisciplinary team at NIOSH to inform miners of what to expect psychologically and physically if it became necessary to use a refuge chamber in a mine emergency.
- When Do You Take Refuge? Decisionmaking During Mine Emergency Escape (2011-08)
This training exposes trainees to the types of decisions that they may need to make during a mine emergency escape and stimulate group discussion about when and why to use a refuge alternative.