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Coal Mine Safety 

Author: Jack Caldwell


This review discusses safety at coal mines. An overview of safety equipment is given, including communication equipment, the self-contained breathing apparatus, and safety and rescue chambers. A list of world-wide organizations dealing with coal mine safety is also given.


As I write this, the internet is awash with news of new legislation to improve coal mine safety. The most encouraging is that Pennsylvania is about to approve a new bill that revises the state's mine-safety law. To wit:
Approved unanimously yesterday by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, the measure creates a state mine-safety board that can make regulations without waiting for legislative approval; strengthens mine-safety standards; and requires mine operators, rather than employees, to take responsibility for accidents.

Here's what I think: all the reporting, commenting, and exhorting in the world will achieve nothing if the individual mine worker cannot take personal responsibility for his/her own safety in an environment where management provides what is needed to exercise individual rights to safety and life.


Coal mine operators must be able to locate and communicate with mine workers at all times - particularly in the event of fires, roof falls or other life-threatening situations. It is equally critical that these communication systems stay active during power outages, fan stoppages or gas accumulations.

CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia's national science agency, recently visited more than eight underground coal mines to discuss the types of issues confronting surface Control Room operators. A number of common issues were identified including:

  • The large variety of diverse and proprietary communication systems that were in use at each site
  • Large numbers of system-generated false and misleading alarms
  • Time delays in locating and contacting individuals
  • A cumbersome manual statutory reporting system
  • Extreme workloads in emergency situations
Photos: Mine Radio Systems (MRS)

Today's communication systems used in underground coal mines generally employ a hard-wired system or a special cable called a "Leaky Feeder". Fiber optic cables are also used in some applications. Through-the-earth (TTE) and wireless radio systems are less common. Here are some types of equipment and their suppliers:

Presently Available Through-The-Earth (TTE) Communication Systems: A TTE system likely will have the best chance of providing contact with miners since it offers the best resistance to damage from roof falls, fires and explosions. There are several companies who offer TTE systems. Most are limited to communication from surface-to-underground. Only one system provides communications both surface-to-underground and underground-to-surface, but it is not a portable system.

Flexalert - Mine Radio Systems - Canada: FLEXALERT replaces the need for stench gas, by facilitating rapid and reliable emergency evacuation, paging and restricted area warnings: employing the latest low frequency telemagnetic technology, the signal can penetrate miles of soil and rock, without any cable.

PED - Mine Site Technologies - Australia: PED is a through-the-earth communication system installed in over 120 mines. PED's ability to transmit directly through hundreds of meters of rock strata enables it to provide true mine wide signal coverage. As such PED is used in many mines as the primary emergency warning system, as well as a general day-to-day communication system. PED's emergency warning capability is well documented by MSHA, having been credited by MSHA and mine officials as being instrumental in saving five lives at Willow Creek Coal Mine in 1998.

Other Coal Mine Communication Systems

Here are links to related Articles:

SPIROMATIC S4 SCBA (Photos: INTERSPIRO) Wikipedia defines a self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA as "a device worn by rescue workers, firefighters, and others to provide breathable air in a hostile environment." It is also sometimes referred to, as a Compressed Air Breaching Apparatus (CABA) or simply Breathing Apparatus (BA). There are two kinds of SCBA: open circuit and closed circuit.

Closed-circuit SCBAs - The closed-circuit type filters, supplements, and recirculates exhaled gas. It is used when a longer-duration supply of breathing gas is needed, such as in mine rescue and in long tunnels, and going through passages too narrow for a big open-circuit air cylinder.

Open-circuit - Open-circuit industrial breathing sets are filled with filtered, compressed air, the same air we breathe normally. The compressed air passes through a regulator, is inhaled by the user, then exhaled out of the system, quickly depleting the supply of air. Most modern SCBAs are open-circuit.

Breathing Apparatus Manufacturers:

Related Articles:


Rescue chamber (Photos: Cowan Manufacturing Pty Ltd.) A safety/rescue chamber is an airtight, reinforced box stocked with food, water and oxygen supplies to protect miners who become trapped underground. The most telling evidence that rescue chambers save lives is shown in what experts are calling a textbook fashion at the Mosaic Potash Mine in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan, Canada, where 72 miners were successfully rescued. The 72 miners were rescued after being trapped underground for 30 hours, thanks to a similar box called a mine rescue chamber.

However, there is controversy. Bob Friend, acting deputy director of MSHA, said when asked to explain MSHA's inaction on coal industry rescue chambers. "It's totally different than metal and non-metal mines." Friend said that rescue chambers would not work in some small coal mines where coal seams are not tall enough to allow them to be installed. Also, Friend said, coal seams can catch fire, spreading flames to rescue chambers. Rescue chambers could also be damaged or destroyed by dust explosions, Friend said. Refer to the Sunday Gazette story "Coal mine rescue chambers won't work, agency says" from February 2006.

Coal Safety Chamber Manufacturers:

Related Articles/Videos:


Here are links to the many organizations that deal in coal mine safety. All are in LinksMine, but we repeat them here for your convenience.








South Africa


Foreign Organization

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