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Push For Stricter Safety Guidelines For Refuge Chambers In South Africa

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Guidelines for refuge chambers are present in South Africa. However, they are vague and lack vital standards for adequate life support systems.
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Safety guidelines for refuge chambers are present in South Africa. However, they are vague and lack vital standards for adequate life support systems.

MineARC Systems recognise the important presence of detailed guidelines for refuge chambers in underground mines. Because of this, MineARC plays an active role to encourage and assist governing bodies in reaching these standards throughout all industries and in all underground mines across the globe.

A guideline is an explanatory document that provides more information on legislation requirements, details good practice, and may explain the means of compliance with standards prescribed in the legislation. Compliance with guidelines is not mandatory but can have legal standing if it demonstrated that the guideline is the ‘industry norm’.

MineARC’s General Managers recently met with the Director of Mine Safety, Anthony Coutinho, to discuss the process of establishing a South African National Standard for refuge chambers underground. Current guidelines exclude the need for a backup source of oxygen, carbon monoxide (CO), and carbon dioxide (CO2) scrubbing, both of which are vital life support systems necessary to sustain the lives of miners trapped underground for a prolonged period of time.

General Manager Tom Long explains the importance of stricter guidelines for the South African mining industry; ‘South Africa has some of the world’s deepest gold mines. It is vital to provide refuge in remote areas underground where the chance of escape is limited.

The Harmony Gold incident, where nine miners perished but eight survived due to a refuge bay, proves the importance of their presence.’

Current Refuge Chamber Guidelines

Guidelines currently exist in Western Australia under the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP). These are used to help govern the provision of emergency refuge in Australian metalliferous (hard rock) mines. The guideline, ‘Refuge Chambers in Underground Mines’, is updated each year and is referred to by the Mines Inspectorates Office when conducting on-site safety inspections.

Similarly, the International Tunneling and Underground Space Association (ITA) Working Group 5 identified the need for guidance on providing refuge chambers in tunnels under construction. MineARC Systems meets all ITA guidelines when custom engineering chambers for tunnelling projects.

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