Challenges and Solutions: Your Mining Emergency Response Plan

By Stuart Kelly on May 14, 2015

Challenges and Solutions: Your Mining Emergency Response PlanWhen it comes to mine emergency preparation, a response plan is a given — but it’s really just a start. Extensive training and excellent communication are also necessary.

While training simulations and the practice your team gets during them are useful, a real emergency is an entirely different beast. During a real disaster — with water rising, toxic fumes approaching, or fires getting hotter — every second counts. And there are no do-overs.

That’s because tragedies can happen any time. You’ll recall:

  • In 2010, an explosion killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia.
  • In 2007, an earthquake caused a collapse at the Crandall Canyon coal mine in Utah, killing six miners and three rescue workers.
  • In 2006, 12 died during a collapse at the Sago coal mine in West Virginia.

Though we don’t know if such tragedies were caused by faulty response plans, we do know that mistakes are common during such disasters — and anything we can do to reduce mistakes will increase safety and save lives.

Creating a top-notch mining emergency response plan is full of challenges. What top challenges do mine operators face, and what solutions can help keep miners safe?

Biggest Challenge No. 1 — Stress

Stress clouds our judgment and causes difficulty making what scientists call “goal-oriented” decisions.

According to a 2009 study from Science by Eduardo Dias-Ferreira, we can still make “automatic” decisions no matter how stressed we are. However, stress makes it difficult to “switch” from automatic to more complicated decision-making.

In other words, mine workers would find it nearly impossible to make the kinds of complex decisions that arise spur of the moment during a fire or other accident. Under stress, the brain’s “executive functions” break down, making it hard for us to think and concentrate. Instead, we make shortsighted judgments and find it difficult to assess the positives and negatives of a given decision.

There are things we can do to mitigate this stress: Write your emergency response plan as clearly and directly as you can, practice it often, and fill it with “if-then” statements: If this happens, then do this.

Additionally, giving your miners emergency-related mobile apps puts a wealth of helpful information at their fingertips. In an emergency, mine workers can use their smartphones to quickly access things like firefighting procedures, personnel assignments, and evacuation procedures, including directions to escape ways.

If your goal is to get the right information in the right hands at the right time, then easy-to-use, dependable mobile technology may be what you’re looking for.

Biggest Challenge No. 2 — Lack of Proper Training

Emergency preparedness training too often takes place in environments far removed from the mine and fellow mine workers: classrooms and online.

In these settings, miners can’t face the serious problems they’d see in a real event (breathing problems, extreme heat, etc.). But simulated mine disasters have the potential to change that. And now, thanks to tech advances, simulations are getting better at creating realistic emergency situations.

The Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) has long been looking into how to best teach mine workers to escape from disaster situations. Now, several facilities across the country can simulate something close to real-world emergencies, allowing mine workers to practice escaping from smoky, hot situations.

But you probably can’t get all of your workers to one of these facilities every year. What then?

The next step is emergency training with virtual reality (VR) — the same technology that’s set to start taking over the video game industry later this year. VR is the use of computer screen-equipped headsets to create simulated “life,” including sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

VR training, the OMSHR and mining disaster specialists believe, will “bridge the gap” between classroom training and facility simulations. VR will be much more realistic than classroom training — and will offer the sights, sounds, and smells of simulations for a much lower cost.

Biggest Challenge No. 3 — Poor Communication

As a mine operator, you’re under pressure to produce more despite constantly shrinking budgets. Good communication can help you do that.

You’re ahead of the game if your machines can communicate with each other, your front office, and your workers. But to what extent are you delivering data in real-time to everyone, and every machine, in need of it?

While communication sometimes falls short when mine operators try to save a buck — or just because it gets put on the back burner behind more pressing projects — the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act has helped bring mines up to speed technologically.

The MINER Act requires that all underground coal mines be equipped with wireless communications and electronic tracking systems, improving the speed and clarity of communication between underground workers and surface personnel. Moreover, the folks up top can track the location of all the people underground with GPS systems.

Mobile apps are also improving communications. Apps created especially for this purpose enable miners to do things like log gas detection readings, times, and locations, monitor ventilation — and share findings with others in real-time.

Detecting problems early, such as a gas leak, saves lives. The Upper Big Branch mine explosion was caused by faulty ventilation equipment. Early detection and excellent communication — the kind that a mobile app facilitates — might have prevented the disaster.

With shrinking budgets, the mining business isn’t getting any easier — yet worker safety remains a top priority. Mobile apps and other technology can help put your workers in charge of their own safety — and reduce paperwork and cost at the same time.

At GoCanvas, we have more than 200 mobile apps created by and for mine operators, and another 200+ for the Quarrying, Oil, Gas, & Chemicals industry — now is the time to see how technology can improve the safety and efficiency of your business. Start with a free trial.

Image: fpolat69 /