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News Extra: Australian mine safety report highlights problems with explosion protected equipment and coal dust

17 December 2014

In the Queensland Mine Safety Performance and Health Report 2013-14, Acting Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health Paul Harrison highlighted a number of problem areas that he said the Mines Inspectorate would be concentrating on in 2014-15. The first involves the increase in explosion protected equipment damage incidents in underground coal mines, which he calls a “disturbing trend”.

Stock image
Stock image

A review of incident data relating to electrical hazards shows the number of these incidents in the state  increased by 205% in the last five years to 74 incidents in 2013-14. Over the period, 16% of all electrically categorised incidents involved failure of an explosion protection technique. This puts it in third place behind cable damage and issues with the electrical installations on mobile vehicles.

According to the report, 48% of the events could be attributed to the equipment operator and 29% to electrical installation failures.

Issues being reported include:
• damage to machine headlights with the machines still in service in the underground environment
• lighting cables being damaged and exposing the live wires
• people losing non-certified equipment underground
• substandard maintenance practices by competent people.

Harrison said that given the critical role explosion protected equipment plays in the prevention of methane and coal dust explosions in underground coal mines, the prevalence of these substandard conditions and practices was “very concerning”.

He said the Mines Inspectorate had raised its concerns with industry at the regular six monthly meetings of electrical engineering managers and at the 2014 Mine Electrical Safety Conference.
The report also covered the results of an audit into the efficacy of coal dust explosion prevention and suppression systems in Queensland underground coal mines. “This audit highlighted poor practices and a gross lack of understanding among various levels of management and supervision about the requirements for sampling, analysis and application of stone dust,” the report says.

One of the primary controls in managing coal dust explosion hazard is the application of stone dust on mine roadways to reduce the potential for propagation. The Mines Inspectorate will be giving stone dusting an increased focus in 2014-15 to tackle the poor practices highlighted by the audit.

The Mines Inspectorate examined the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River Mine disaster in New Zealand and found possible problems including blast relief panels on main fans and variable voltage variable frequency speed drives on electrical equipment.

Action is being taken on these issues and dissemination of the Pike River learnings at seminars and conferences across Australia is still occurring to ensure that the lessons gained from this mine disaster are passed on to Australian miners.

The Pike River disaster highlighted the problems with using overland robots to gather critical information about underground mine conditions post explosion. To address these problems, the Mines Inspectorate has worked with external partners to develop an aerial mine exploration platform which can be deployed safely in an explosive underground atmosphere, capable of relaying visual information and gas data back to the incident management team on the surface.

Harrison said the increase in mine fatalities over the period in Australia highlighted the need for continued vigilance, despite other key safety and health indicators such as lost time injuries and disabling injuries showing significant improvement.

“The year 2013-14 was a bad one for fatalities in the Australian mining industry with a total of 16 workplace deaths in mining during the year. This is the worst result experienced for a number of years. It has raised significant concern among regulators and mine operators alike.

 “Investigations into these 16 incidents are not yet concluded so I am unable to offer further comment on specific details. However, improved training, competency and support of line supervisors has been identified as a key area requiring attention. Poor knowledge and competency are the precursors to disasters and fatal accidents. They were key contributors to the Moura No. 2 disaster, and there is a strong link between these factors and the last six mine disasters in Australia as well as the Pike River Mine disaster in New Zealand.”

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