Report: APP CMHS Project 4

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6.1.5. Effectiveness of Australian Emergency Response Techniques

6.1.5. Effectiveness of Australian Emergency Response Techniques

It is in some regards difficult to substantiate the effectiveness of such emergency response systems due to the infrequent nature of such events in Australia. However, this is somewhat an indicator of overall safety management performance in itself.

The implementation of the preceding techniques and technology in the Australian underground mining industry has meant that there have been no multiple fatality emergencies since the Gretley inrush disaster of 1996. This is not to say that the potential has diminished; there have been a number of situations such as strata failure leading to entrapment, spontaneous combustion events in longwall goafs, fires, diesel machines running in high gas environments and high methane inrush events. However, for each event, first response and emergency control triggers have been followed with prompt evacuation or hazard control measures as required, so that there has been no loss of life.

A more proactive representation of the effectiveness of application and implementation of crisis management and disaster recovery systems is by reviewing the closest approximation to such events. Each year in the Queensland underground coal mining sector a simulated emergency exercise is conducted at a selected mine by the Mines Inspectorate, with assistance from research organisations, union and company representatives. This is in addition to the requirement for every mine to conduct multiple simulated emergency exercises, such that all mine workers participate in at least one per year. Such events aim to include external agencies such as mines rescue services, inertisation apparatus, police, ambulance, media and civil emergency services organisations.

A review of the past 10 years of such exercises provides some insight:

  • All mines have the requisite Hazard Management Plans that trigger amelioration actions in the event of imminent disaster.

  • All mines conduct simulated emergency exercises for the purpose of improving such Hazard Management Plans.

  • Training in the implementation of emergency response management systems such as MEMS/ICS for management has been effective in providing a broad based response to an emergency event.

  • There is a need to improve the ability of mine workers to don, use and change self contained breathing apparatus.

  • At times, the tendency of mine workers is to escape from the mine rather than provide immediate control actions (such as fire fighting), which could further aid their workmates in also escaping.

  • There are significant limitations in two way communication (apart from fixed communication) with underground personnel.

  • Communication between people escaping from the mine is hampered by SCSR use with only options being hand signals or note paper. Full face masks (that allow verbal communication) are not widely used.

  • Automated or electronic tracking systems are yet to be widely implemented.

  • There is limited ability to obtain real time data and information on critical gas and ventilation information, without relying on direct verbal communication.

  • Whilst rapid drilling large diameter borehole technology has been used in previous international entrapments, at shallow depth, there is no designated technology available in the Australian context or for deeper operations.

  • There is scope for improved technology in escape route delineation over and above low tech lifelines and route markers.

  • Consideration should be given to automated remote activation systems for ventilation control in the event of fire or explosion.

  • Whilst a range of inertisation apparatus exists, there is limited ability to completely inertise the entire mine environment, short of some degree of ventilation restriction.

An industry review of emergency management effectiveness was conducted in 2006, with the aim to further challenge the industry to continue to improve on existing technology and techniques. The workshop considered what was being done well and what needed to be improved, what was best practice and where additional research was required in the broad categories of Self Contained Breathing Apparatus; Compressed Air Breathing Apparatus; Self Escape; First Response; Emergency Management and Escape Vehicles. A steering committee and three sub-committees were formed to continue the development of escape apparatus, escape systems and legislation.

In summary, the lagging indicator of a significant reduction in the number and severity of emergency or crisis situations in the Australian underground coal sector provides a general indication of the effectiveness of the implemented strategies. The more proactive initiatives such as review of emergency exercises and emergency management by the industry and the subsequent improvement initiatives provides an insight into what is working well and what needs further improvement.

6.1.5. Effectiveness of Australian Emergency Response Techniques

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