Refuge Chambers Provide Shelter inside MinesWed, 10/21/2015 - 12:53
Thunderous echoes of a nearby explosion violently shake the walls, causing them to crack and buckle under their own weight. The lights flicker one last time before darkness, dust, and fear flood the tunnel. As countless dangers conspire against their lives, a group of brave miners find shelter in the nearest available stronghold – an Emergency Refuge Chamber.
When visiting a Mexican hard rock mine, it is not unusual to find one of Strata’s walk-in Emergency Refuge Chambers. These models have been the company’s most popular products during its six-year presence in the country, and represent 95% of its total Mexican chamber sales. “Strata’s employees include many ex-miners, so it is easy for us to understand how the miners react during an emergency situation,” explains Elmer Bauman, Sales Manager Mexico of Strata Worldwide (Strata). “As it is difficult for a miner to think clearly during such a tense predicament, we created a chamber that is as easy as possible to use.” Purpose-built for each customer, the chambers can be designed to shelter between eight and 30 people in the event of an emergency. They are designed to withstand harsh underground environments, and provide oxygen in the event of outside air quality becoming compromised. Additional features such as battery-powered electrical backup systems, atmospheric monitors, food and water rations, and private sanitation facilities are all designed to aid prolonged survival and provide maximum comfort to its occupants. However, hard rock chambers are not suited to coal mining due to the risk of electricity derived gas explosions. For this reason, Strata supplies completely power-free, inflatable Fresh Air Bay Chambers that provide 96 hours of breathable air. These chambers are primarily used during a fire, or when a high level of carbon monoxide, methane, or toxic gas has been detected. The chambers are imperative as part of any mine’s safety program, and are relatively inexpensive when compared to the potential insurance and investigation costs associated with employee injuries. At present, the chambers for the Mexican market are built in Torreon, but Strata hopes to soon expand its offerings within the country. The importance of the Mexican market has led to the company planning to open more offices, once its customers nationwide install equipment which requires more immediate maintenance.
Other solutions in Strata’s product range further highlight the company’s focus on mining safety. Strata CommTrac is a wireless, battery-powered system which provides two-way mesh communications and location tracking for underground mining personnel, enabling mining companies to view real-time locations of their workers. Strata Asset Tracking operates in a similar manner but is instead used for tracking mining equipment and vehicles. “The systems we provide are not dependent on external power or cables meaning that they will stay online during an incident,” states Bauman. “The systems are easy to deploy as there is no wiring involved, they are very cost-effective in terms of maintenance, and they are the most accurate, customizable, tracking solutions on the market.” Finally, HazardAvert is a proximity detection and collision avoidance solution which prevents accidents by detecting when a person or vehicle is too close to a piece of operating machinery. Operators carry personal sensor devices which emit an audible and visual proximity alert activated by an electromagnetic field generator installed on the machines. In some cases, this system can be programmed to automatically slow or stop the machinery when the “danger zone” is breached. Electronic solutions such as these are designed with accident prevention in mind, preserving the assets and avoiding the risks of higher operating costs in underground mines.
Strata started life as a timber roof supports company, but has achieved worldwide success by expanding its product and services portfolio over 20 years. Besides the safety solutions already mentioned, the company’s Strata Mine Services division has evolved to provide mining tools and equipment, contractual labor, and mining specialists when resources are needed in a mine. El Boleo mine had recently requested Strata’s support due to ground control issues which prevented its advancement. “Together with Strata Mine Services, we provided a chemical solution to improve the stability of the roof,” recalls Bauman. “By drilling into the ceiling and pumping in our product, the cracks were sealed and advancement could continue.” He explains that this solution is primarily intended for coal mines but, thanks to El Boleo’s geological similarities to such mines, it has proved to be a broader success.
Committed to working deep beneath our feet in some of the world’s harshest environments, the bravery of underground miners is unmatched in the mining sector, or indeed any other industry. On a daily basis, these dedicated individuals are at risk from hazards such as cave-ins, gas explosions, poisonous fumes, equipment collisions, electrocution, fires, and floods, to name just a few dangers.