Written by DEZEGA

Did you know that at the beginning of the 20th century, miners used canaries to signal the presence of dangerous toxic gases?

Whilst it might be hard to believe, the lives of underground personnel once depended on these little yellow birds. Canaries are extremely sensitive to a range of gases; in particular methane and carbon monoxide. If there was enough fresh air in the mine, the birds sang and chirped. If the canary suddenly became agitated or fell dead, mining personnel understood that they urgently needed to evacuate. 

In addition, mine rescuers often used canaries during descent into dangerous areas of the mine.  With their help, they discovered gaseous workings to redirect the air stream there.

Canaries were of great help in preventing explosions and providing alerts for many decades. Of course, with no redundancies available, if personnel did not exit the mine in time, their chance of survival was about 10%.

Mining safety standards evolution

As time and technology progressed, gas analysers replaced canaries, and the first filtered breathing apparatuses entered the market. At the time, these breathing aids were only able to filter out certain dangerous gases and unable to protect personnel in environments where oxygen levels were less than 17%. At this point, survival rates in these kinds of emergencies had increased to 20%.

By the the end of the 20th century, self-contained respiratory protective equipment had been developed. These apparatuses were modified, improved and modernised continually, with new models introduced year on year, with major progress generally triggered by significant incidents.

Self-contained self-rescuer equipment was a notable progress in improving the safety of miners; completely isolating the user from the environment and protecting them from any concentration of toxic gases and absence of oxygen. Although the existence of the SCSR did not provide a guaranteed escape, chances of survival had increased to more than 80%; with the only risk factor being a lack of knowledge in how to don and breathe with this vital piece of equipment. 

Only at the beginning of the 21st century, with a risk-oriented approach in the analysis of underground safety, was it deemed necessary to introduce mandatory training in the SCSR for mining personnel. Training requirements are set by law in various countries, including South Africa, Australia, the USA, Ukraine and Russia.  Modern investigation of accidents show that loss of life during an emergency is often due to a low level of training and violation of health and safety rules, rather than problems with personal respiratory protective equipment.

MineARC Systems offers product training in the use of DEZEGA Self-Contained Self-Rescuers on request. In conjunction with this, the DEZEGA Training Kit provides the ability to train underground personnel in how to don and breathe in a self-rescuer.

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