In almost every investigation into underground mine accidents in Australia, lack of adequate training is cited as one of the contributing factors. From tragedies like the Moura mine disaster outlined so starkly on page XX, to near-misses that make everyone hug their children at the end of shift, gaps in training arise as a constant theme. In this edition of Australasian Mine Safety Journal we take a look at some of the best underground mining training facilities in the country and the new techniques and technologies being adopted to make underground mines a safer place to make a living.
QUEENSLAND OPTS FOR VIRTUAL REALITY
Queensland mine workers can now experience all the sights, sounds and challenges of working underground at a new virtual reality mine training centre opened late last year at Redbank, on the outskirts of Brisbane.
A 3D replica of a working Queensland underground coal mine was created using cutting-edge, real time interactive graphics and immersive display technology, including all underground equipment and mine infrastructure such as an operating longwall, continuous miners, loaders, shuttle cars, belt systems, support, ventilation devices and safety equipment.
Initially, the immersive virtual reality training will focus on underground coal mine safety, but there are plans to expand future courses to cover workers involved in metalliferous and open cut mining.
At the opening of the new facility, Queensland’s Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Andrew Cripps, said the $500,000 state-of-the-art Virtual Reality (VR) Mine Training Facility was designed primarily to improve safety in Queensland’s resources sector.
“The resources sector employs thousands of Queenslanders and we expect there to be many thousands more as projects, such as those in the Galilee Basin, get underway,” Mr Cripps said.
“In the past, many trainees would begin employment without ever having experienced these conditions, but now they can do so in a safe and controlled environment.
The immersive VR technology used at the centre takes miners into an underground mine environment, allowing them to experience simulated emergency situations and identify the most appropriate responses to keep themselves and fellow workers safe.
“Training this way will help reduce the potential for critical mistakes to occur in the actual workplace and will protect the future of this industry that is vital to supercharging the Queensland economy.” The Minister said.
The facility is located at the Department of Natural Resources and Mines Safety in Mines Testing and Research Station (Simtars) and was developed in partnership with Brisbane company VR Space.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA – A CUT ABOVE
The CUT mine is a former service tunnel located under the Central Institute of Technology (CIT) in Northbridge, Perth. It has been converted into a simulated underground mine and was officially opened in 2009.
It is the first training facility of its kind in Western Australia and includes a refuge chamber, identical to the ones used in industry, as well as lined walls that simulate rock faces containing copper, gold and nickel. Inside, it contains real and replica machinery a jumbo box, escape-way, a diamond drill and an airleg machine. It looks, feels and sounds like the real thing.
The CUT Mine has been developed in close partnership with industry, including Newmont Asia Pacific, Barrick Australia Pacific, BHP Billiton, Barminco Limited, Downunder Mining, St Barbara Limited, and MineARC Systems. These partners actively supported the development of The CUT Mine through the donation of equipment and continue to do so. CIT is currently developing a program where one of the industry supporters is looking to come in and complete some of their own training within the facility. It will become a resource for their own recruitment/selection procedures.
Industry use of the facility is a key measure and is monitored to ensure the return on investment and continued relevance to industry. Based on this measurement, CIT has continued to refine and add to the facility to increase its application to industry.
Students who are studying a Certificate III in Mining Operations use the tunnel to learn face mapping techniques and basic mine safety.
The CUT mine has been helping both students and job seekers considering underground mining to decide whether it’s for them. People who have never worked in an underground mine environment can get an understanding of the risks they face – by seeing what a refugee chamber looks like for example.
“This tunnel allows students to get a realistic feel for life in an underground mine site,” said Central Institute of Technology mining and geoscience lecturer Charles Dornan.
“Working underground is not for everyone and the CUT Mine gives students a chance to see what it would be like to spend long hours underground with only the light on their helmet to guide them. “It is a very different experience from training in the classroom.”
Charles said students usually train in the tunnel about seven or eight times over the six month course.
Course graduates will be trained for a number of jobs in the mining sector such as exploration field assistants, pit technicians and underground geotechnicians.
The CUT Mine is designed to be ever-evolving, with plans underway to develop another ‘charged up’ face with mock explosives and detonators. CIT are looking to install an elevated platform to train in vent bag installation as well as installing additional equipment relating to the stringing of water services. As underground mining expands CIT will also be looking at adding in further cross cuts, surveyed in to simulate following an ore body.
“The CUT mine has been helping both students and job seekers considering underground mining to decide whether it’s for them.”
In August 2012, The world’s first training centre dedicated to the specialist underground mining technique of block caving opened its doors at Rio Tinto’s Northparkes copper and gold mine in central New South Wales.
Block caving involves the controlled collapse of ore from under its own weight into specially-designed chutes for collection. The ore is then brought to the surface for processing.
With deposits becoming deeper, Rio Tinto said it forecasts that underground copper mining will increase over the next two decades. Rio Tinto Copper chief executive Andrew Harding said “Block cave mining is safer, more cost-effective and can be done on a much larger scale than traditional underground mining methods. It requires highly specialised skills, and this new centre will cement our leadership in developing and operating block cave mines as we move to the next generation of orebodies.
“The Northparkes centre will train Rio Tinto miners and engineers from around the world in the technical and operational skills needed to operate block cave mines, starting with teams from the new Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia and the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia.”
Northparkes Mines’ managing director Stefanie Loader said “Northparkes was the first mine in Australia to use block caving, starting 15 years ago. Since then we have refined the method and it is now in its third generation. It has given us improvements in safety, productivity and a reduction in operating costs. Our expert knowledge and capability makes our mine an ideal location for a state-of-the-art training complex.”
The custom-built Block Caving Knowledge Centre has a number of specialist training features including an immersion theatre that allows geotechnical data to be displayed in a 3D 360 degree simulation and an underground simulator room. It also features specialist-trade training facilities, meeting rooms fitted with interactive whiteboards, HD video conferencing systems and wireless technology.
The centre, which has a native Australian landscape design, has a five-star energy rating and is fitted with solar panels and has an east-west orientation for maximum light to enter the building.
In developing the centre, Rio Tinto worked in partnership with the University of New South Wales, which offers postgraduate courses for mining engineers.
“Block cave mining is safer, more cost-effective and can be done on a much larger scale than traditional underground mining methods.”
NSW GETS REAL
In 2012, Xstrata Coal turned its Baal Bone underground mine near Lithgow, in the western coalfields of NSW, into a first-of-its-kind, hands-on training facility.
The Baal Bone training centre has become Xstrata Coal’s regional training mine, where new underground workers spend twelve weeks learning their skills. What’s different from traditional courses is the trainees not only attend classroom tutorials, they complete familiarisation and operations with the equipment on the surface and then proceed underground to operate the equipment in a “real-world” environment before they start their fulltime careers.
“The program is an industry first and what’s great is that it provides an opportunity for people without any industry experience to learn and practice vital skills that will help them gain employment with us at a time of considerable growth,” Mark Bulkeley, Xstrata Coal’s Baal Bone Health Safety and Training Manager said at the time of opening.
“Our investment in this unique facility will allow Xstrata the opportunity to support our expansion plans, by being able to attract and employ people without previous mining experience but who, importantly, display attitudes that reflect our Xstrata values,” explains Xstrata Coal NSW Chief Operating Office, Ian Cribb.
While the first group of graduates came from the Ulan West mine in Mudgee, which is in close proximity to Baal Bone, eventually Xstrata trainees from across NSW and then Australia will have the opportunity to train at Baal Bone.
“I believe turning Baal Bone into a training facility has benefits for Xstrata but also the local community. It provides employment for trainers and assessors so they can stay in the community they call home. It also ensures that the colliery will continue to be an integral part of our community and that critical skills will be kept here,” said Mr Bulkeley.
UTILISING TECHNOLOGY IN TRAINING & OPERATIONS
BY PETER NICHOLLS
The benefits of simulating mining operations have been most significantly realised recently in training. One of the biggest advances in the area over the past few years has been the incorporation of simulators into the induction and training process. Simulator training is now considered best practice for training ‘green’ staff, and upskilling and benchmarking existing employees.
Training staff in a simulated mine environment enables operators of machinery, such as trucks and loaders, to experience a range of emergency scenarios including collisions and fires with incredible realism but without the risk to people and equipment.
It facilitates hands-on training in a controlled location ensuring staff are comprehensively trained and tested, before they move onto the real thing.
The ability to train new and existing operators to safely and efficiently operate machinery is central to a company’s ability to maintain their safety and performance success. Various modules are available for the simulator training of truck drivers and other heavy machinery allowing training staff to gauge how users respond and customise training programs accordingly.
Green operators who have been through the simulated training are proving to be easier to train and integrate onsite and are superior in their ability to respond to real scenarios.
Providing new machinery operators with an opportunity to gain hands-on training in a realistic environment also translates to more efficient vehicle usage and reductions in unscheduled maintenance costs. Technological advancements also extend beyond training into operations. Investments into equipment that can automate high risk manual tasks also provides a safer operating environment.