Evacuation will always be the primary course of action during a hazardous event. However, in mining operations, it is not always possible. Working hundreds of meters underground can make immediate evacuation difficult. Which is why refuge chambers have become a critical element of emergency response planning.
Refuge chambers are essentially closed environments, built to sustain life during an emergency or hazardous situation. In recent years, they have become a requirement across mining operations in Turkey, following the severe events of the Eynez Coal Mine in Soma.
Merely having a refuge chamber on-site is not enough. What concerns many is the quality of refuge chambers and their ability to perform during an emergency. There are a number of technical specifications that need to be considered to ensure the safety of all underground personnel.
Without a basic understanding of how refuge chambers sustain life in the worst conditions, critical decisions are being made jeopardising the lives of personnel underground. Installing refuge chambers in haste can often lead to mistakes to be made, and vital safety features of the refuge chamber can be overlooked or deemed unnecessary.
Survivability in a refuge chamber focuses on meeting fundamental requirements to sustain life. Including maintaining a respirable atmosphere, and habitable environment, as well as providing basic needs such as food and water.
Refuge Chamber Components
The design of refuge chambers has progressed dramatically in recent years. Moving far away from the often-used shipping-type container placed underground, which quickly became overheated, harming miners trapped for any significant length of time. These developments have been essential to the protection of personnel.
In short, a refuge chamber must contain, but not be limited to the following features:
- Sealed Environment: Refuge chambers are closed environments to prevent the ingress of contaminants such as smoke and hazardous gases from entering the enclosed space.
- Oxygen Supply: A supply of oxygen, from mine air or oxygen cylinders, needs to be continuously monitored and controlled to levels no less than 19.5% and no greater than 22% by volume of oxygen.
- Air Scrubbing: Refuge chamber scrubbing systems use chemical reactions to remove contaminants, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, from the air by changing the composition of gases exhaled by inhabitants.
- Temperature Control: In the sealed environment, heat can increase due to numerous internal and external sources. It is vital to have an adequate cooling system to ensure the internal temperature does not reach a critical point.
- Back-Up Power Supply: Batteries are utilised in conjunction with the inverter/charger to provide a reliable Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS). These power the refuge chamber’s life support systems (including scrubbing units, air conditioning and lighting), in the event of a loss of mains power.
Refuge chambers that do not meet these standard requirements cannot safeguard against an emergency. Lower quality, or unmaintained chambers, compromised the safety of underground personnel.
Not all refuge chambers are built the same. MineARC Systems have set the benchmark for refuge chambers. MineARC Refuge Chambers have been used successfully around the world in multiple mining and tunnelling emergencies to save lives. With 20 years’ experience, and ongoing research and development has kept MineARC at the forefront of controlled environments and safe refuge technology.
Real Life Usage of Refuge Chambers
Across the globe, the need for refuge chambers is continually being proved. In recent history, Tritton Copper Mine in New South Wales, Australia, safely utilised several refuge chambers when a truck fire quickly became out of control. The fire grew blocking the main decline, with smoke contaminating the ventilation system, trapping those below. Fortunately, due to thorough emergency response planning, once the fire was contained all underground personnel were safely evacuated. Without MineARC Refuge Chambers in place, this incident may have had a very different outcome.
Terry, an underground miner who experienced the Tritton incident first hand reflects on the company’s investment in refuge chamber. “I’m thankful the company values the safety and protection of workers so highly, which is why they had refuge chambers installed and maintained. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”
Emergency safety systems and refuge chambers are in place to ensure the safety of personnel underground. Refuge chambers may be one element, but to provide inadequate equipment can come at a heavy cost. These shelters are in place to support a safe work environment and ensure miners return to their friends and family at the end of the day.
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