Coal mines tend to be located deep underground which can result in adverse environmental conditions. High levels of heat and humidity create more arduous working conditions and can hamper the ability of rescue workers to safely carry out operations during an emergency.
© Fotolia, 2012
Started in September 2003 , SAFETECH was a three year Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS) project that aimed at alleviating potential dangerous situations associated with such heat and humidity. It did this by gaining an understanding of the risks and monitoring the mining environment which ultimately protected workers.
With European Union (EU) funding of €1.9 million, SAFETECH was coordinated by Deutsche Steinkohle AG (DSK) in Germany but had various partners in France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.
SAFETECH has improved the surveillance of underground air in mines which has allowed for the quick detection of hazardous gas concentrations and concealed fires. It has also developed safe systems and equipment for monitoring mines and shafts susceptible to explosions. Crucially, the project improved methods of gas capture and climate control in mines.
"New methods for predicting, monitoring and controlling the emissions of methane and other problematic gases will always be required for all deep coal mine operations and extraction methods," said SAFETECH Mines Rescue Service Ltd project leader, Bob Jozefowicz. "These methods are also important for application during working, termination of working and closing of a mine."
The results of SAFETECH have appeared in various publications, at conferences and even product demonstrations. Interestingly, various research components appear to have been exploited in various EU member states. For example, the monitoring equipment and systems of work carried out by the consortium were utilised in France at the time of the complete termination of its deep coal mining activities.
It is nearly impossible to calculate the economical benefits of safety related projects. However, a strong indication of just how SAFETECH has improved the situation can be seen in the lower accident rates. For example, in Germany the accident rate in 2003 was 32. In 2010, this figure stood at less than 8 accidents which is a reduction of 75%.
The legacy of SAFETECH looks set to live on. With the closure of many mines within the EU increasing each year, safe techniques to monitor such environments during the termination of working towards closure are crucial.