Mining Topic: Rescue Technologies and Training
What is the health and safety problem?
When the lives of mine workers 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 last of all 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.
Just as in firefighting, team members accept some personal risk to save the lives of others. Hence, it is essential that the United States 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.
What is the extent of the problem?
Approximately 570 underground coal mines and 249 underground metal/nonmetal and stone mines operate in the United States. A recent survey conducted by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) indicated that there are 364 state and company mine rescue teams in the U.S. with about 2,900 rescue team members.
Overall, the majority of activated mine rescue teams have performed well during mine emergency responses. However, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) has found that mine rescue teams possess highly variable levels of readiness, and some do not have the resources to be fully prepared for all types of mine emergency responses.
How is OMSHR addressing this problem?
In cooperation with state mining agencies and mining companies, more than 50 different mine rescue teams have evaluated a variety of rescue technologies during realistic training exercises conducted and evaluated at OMSHR’s research mines and other supporting mine rescue training centers. These training simulations require teams to make strategic decisions while they explore smoke-filled entries, rescue injured miners, navigate around obstacles such as bad roof and water, conduct equipment checks, and re-establish ventilation controls.
Technologies have been developed such as directional lifelines, lighted team link-lines, lifeline pulleys, various communication systems for team/fresh air base communication, thermal imaging cameras, retractors, foldable stretchers, high-intensity LED lights and strobes, chemical light sticks, and handheld lasers. Some of these technologies, such as lifeline pulleys and chemical light sticks, have already been adopted by many rescue teams. In addition, several strobe lighting technologies and lasers are now approved by the Mine Safety and health Administration as intrinsically safe and may be used in mine rescue applications.
What are the significant findings?
OMSHR research has identified numerous associated issues including the opportunity for realistic training, current skills training practices, standardization of skills and equipment, competency assessment, incident command, mine rescue contests, and coal mine rescue training facilities. OMSHR researchers also conducted an inventory of the United States and international coal mine rescue training practices, contest procedures, new technologies, and training facilities to take a closer look at the current skills disparity. The purpose of this research was to identify practices in the United States and around the world that could improve the current underground coal mine rescue system. Preliminary findings have identified that realistic skills training for the following basic competencies should be provided to all U.S. mine rescue team members.
- basic mine rescue skills and practices (contest and real-life rules, first aid, map reading, mine gases, dust and ventilation, communications, breathing apparatus, rescue and fire fighting equipment, gas sampling, ventilation control construction, etc.);
- basic mining skills and knowledge (roof and rib control, shoring and cribbing standing support, sources of ignition, the importance of adequate rock dusting, equipment safety, electrical dos and don'ts, etc.);
- advanced first aid and life support systems (e.g., a paramedic on each team);
- specialized fire fighting;
- ventilation effects of fires;
- gas analysis, sampling, and trend analysis;
- navigation and working under apparatus and in reduced visibility (smoke or dust);
- multiple team rotation procedures;
- incident-command training;
- problem-solving and decision-making.
- heavy-object lifting or removal;
- vertical-rope rescue or repelling from structures or shafts and raises;
- still and swift water rescue.
What are the next steps?
Efforts are underway to offer further guidance to mine rescue teams to provide practical and realistic training that will increase readiness and better equip mine rescue teams for any kind of mine emergency response. The completed inventory of coal mine rescue training capabilities and facilities across the United States and in several other countries could include a similar investigation of training practices for underground metal/nonmetal mines. OMSHR plans to incorporate mine rescue and incident command modules into the Mine Rescue and Escape Training Laboratory. This laboratory is developing innovative training methods based on virtual reality technologies for use in mine safety and health training classes.
Noteworthy Publications & Products
- A Global Inventory of Mine Rescue Training Facilities: Compendium of Ideas to Improve U.S. Coal Mine Rescue Training (2009-02)
This paper presents a summary of domestic and international coal mine rescue training facilities and identifies those that provide unique, real-life, and/or state-of-the-art training.
- An Oral History Analysis of Mine Emergency Response (2004-04)
A compilation of accounts by 30 veteran mine emergency response experts. These veterans related stories and observations from events experienced during as many as 47 years of response activities. These provide an overview of lessons learned on-site.
- Development of a Gas Monitor Simulator and Mine Rescue Contest Field Trials (2012-01)
NIOSH researchers completed field trials during coal mine rescue contests using simulated gas detectors in place of placards, and demonstrated that the newly developed GMS device may be used with no adverse impact on team contest performance.
- Emerging Technologies: Aiding Responders in Mine Emergences and During the Escape From Smoke-Filled Passageways (2001-12)
Technology and realistic training simulations have been identified for the general workforce and mine emergency responders. Laser lights and lifelines were beneficial in leading personnel to safety and out of the mine in smoke-filled passageways.
- Fire Response Preparedness for Underground Mines (2005-01)
This report deals with the preparedness of miners to respond to underground fires. It is intended to aid the mining industry in understanding the various roles of emergency responders and the training techniques used to increase their skill levels. The ...
- In-Mine Study of High-Expansion Firefighting Foam (2011-01)
This paper describes the production of high-expansion firefighting foam and discusses the in-mine experimental tests and results.
- Knowledge Management and Transfer for Mine Emergency Response (2006-09)
US coal mining organizations are losing the knowledge they need to be able to respond to emergencies. Knowledge management provides a useful perspective from which to view the problem. Knowledge can be managed by cultivating it through narratives.
- Mine Rescue and Response (2000-09)
This paper describes technology and training that has been identified for underground emergency responders.
- Responders to Underground Mine Fires (2001-08)
Fire is a major concern for those who work in underground mines. This paper focuses on responders' preparedness for fire.