Improving Self-Escape from Underground Coal Mines


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The odor of burning coal was detected and the order was given to evacuate the mine. The current Form for reporting injuries and illnesses includes a. There are two sections for narrative descriptions. However, there was insufficient detail on such a range of fac- tors, such as whether an SCSR was donned, when the decision to evacuate was made, and the number of miners evacuated. The lack of information may be due to the limited space on the form. If so, the additional data necessary to improve self-escape training could be provided by MSHA personnel with brief written reports of self-escape incidents that are linked to the relevant Form A more structured inquiry about self-escape experiences even in the absence of any accident, injury, or illness could provide important data to enhance understanding of successful self-escapes.

If the inquiry included information about escape training and drills, it might prove possible to associate successful self-escape with the quality, timing and frequency of self-escape related exercises. As its title implies, it requires each mine operator to plan and train for evacuations and firefighting. The regulation also includes provisions for training miners on the mine map and locations of emergency equipment and materials, as well as escape routes, all of which are important elements to wayfinding, communications, and self-escape in an emergency.

Mine Emergency Response Development Exercises All mines are required to have emergency, firefighting, and evacua- tion plans, but having a plan does not guarantee knowing that it works and how it works.

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References | Improving Self-Escape from Underground Coal Mines | The National Academies Press

Unless practiced and tested through the use of MERD exercises, system failures in response plans may be hard to identify and could compromise the response process in the case of an actual emergency. MERD exercises are command-center-based training role-playing exercises designed to test emergency response. That is, have key emer- gency personnel been trained to competency or simply completed the train- ing time required?

To be maximally beneficial, MERD exercises should not be conducted in isolation. They should include a review of past incidents at other mines and all facets of past response incidents. While it may be tempting to limit participation in a MERD exercise to emergency personnel, including mine management, rescue teams, federal and state government officials, and local emergency responders U.

Department of Labor, , the role of additional actors should not be overlooked. For example, role playing to represent the interests and actions of family members, hourly workers, the media, and other individuals and groups could prove beneficial to un- derstanding the impact of the response plan to all the people who may be affected in the case of a mine emergency.

Among other expectations, these activities include a knowledge of all SCSRs in use at the mine, how the devices function and what might be indications of malfunction, and direct experience in donning the SCSRs and transferring between devices; b escapeway drills that use different scenarios each quarter, [with] par- ticipation by all individuals traveling primary and alternate escapeways in entirety including addressing the different complications present in the different routes, locating and using lifelines as well as locating all relevant refuges and SCSR caches; and c a sound understanding of the mine map and location of equipment for firefighting and plans for diverting smoke from escapeways.

Individual miners should also experience how to deploy the available refuge alternatives. No assessment of the effective- ness of these drills is required. According to the MINER Act Section , approved ERPs shall i afford miners a level of safety protection at least consistent with the existing standards, including standards mandated by law and regulation; ii reflect the most recent credible scientific research; iii be technologically feasible, make use of current commercially avail- able technology, and account for the specific physical characteristics of the mine; and iv reflect the improvements in mine safety gained from experience under this Act and other worker safety and health laws.

It is worth noting that many mine operators have, in addition to their required ERPs, emergency response protocols designed to address specific events such as serious injury, search for missing miners, and severe weather. Like the ERP, miners are trained on these protocols.

The ERP should attend to the likely survivability of equipment and technology in the case of a fire or explosion and include redundant systems, as appropriate. Further guidance for the contents of ERPs is contained in MSHA-issued program information bulletins,7 program enforcement letters,8 and procedure instruction letters. Those considerations could include, for example, the role of individuals or position duties involved in an emergency: In Queensland, Australia, training requirements in mine emergency management are outlined in Recognised Standard Table summarizes a hierarchy of exercise types across four levels ranging from statewide exercises to supporting exercises in individual mines.

These standards provide a way to meet safety and health obligations, but they are not mandatory. Other ways of managing risk may be adopted. However the method adopted must show that it was at least equivalent to the recognized standard method. Each year in Queensland10 the emergency preparedness of one underground coal mine is tested through an audit by a team of external personnel, with up to 50 assessors. The aim of the exercise is to test the whole emergency response system, including interaction with other agencies, the media, and government.

It is often these complex interactions that can impede an expeditious and appropriate emergency response. An incident scenario is developed that is based on incidents at the mine or nearby mines that will require management of the incident and may require evacuation of all or part of the mine. The process, which has been under way since , has been judged to have resulted in significant benefits for the whole industry Watkinson and Brady, Real progress has been made in underground escape, including the introduction of compressed air breathing apparatus CABA , changeover stations, lifelines, and in seam first response.

It has been possible to critically evaluate the status of other initiatives, such as personnel and equipment tracking systems, refuge bays, nonverbal communications, and remote sealing capacity. The exercise has highlighted such issues as the need to be in regular contact with underground personnel during an evacuation and the need to know what has happened and what is happening underground. The reports from each exercise are publically available from the Queensland government.

The scenario is to scenario. Control Chief Inspector must ensure Site Senior Executive Site Senior Executive must Site Senior Executive must the exercise is organized must ensure the exercise ensure these exercises are ensure these exercises are each year. State Emergency is organized. Exercise Executive committee is to include committee is to include Committee to include a QMRS representative, a site QMRS a one representative from and representative, and Inspectorate, b site safety and health b site safety and health b one representative from representative.

Mining Project: Self-Escape from Underground Coal Mines Training Initiative

Simtars, c one representative from host mine, d one representative from QMRS, and e one industry safety and health representative. Queensland Government , Table 1. This process also places a lot more pressure on mine sites than do internal training exercises and has highlighted the limitations in the incident management process. It also allows the evaluation of linkages with external agencies and the capacity of other mines to render assistance in a timely manner.

The exercises have also provided the catalyst for a number of major research projects that have led to improved capabilities for mine environmental monitoring, improved mine reentry capabilities, and incident management. During a training exercise, some of the evacuating miners don SCSRs, giving the miners experience in how they feel and operate. This practical experience has greatly increased the acceptance and understanding of SCSRs. Over the years using real SCSRs has also identified a number of design and operational limitations of various units. During the exercises, miners are also often placed in simulated smoke environments.

Practical experience in these environments under controlled conditions reduces the level of uncertainty and the fear of the unknown among the workers. Requiring the testing of an emergency response plan through a rigorous and realistic exercise not only aids training, but also provides a valuable opportunity to improve system and safety performance through the careful and constructive assessment of the plan. The outcome of such an effort contributes to a human-systems integration approach. Information gathered speaks to the effectiveness of current practices and processes specifically with regard to effective decision making and action s at both the individual and systems level.

Improvements in regulations, procedures, and technologies have positively altered the mine environment and consequently reduced the frequency and severity of emer- gencies.

Yet the committee is concerned that improvements in mine safety, especially in regulation, have historically followed major mine disasters. What has been missing is the consideration of safety improvements in advance of incidents, using available knowledge from research, and consideration of larger systemic issues. However, there are other stakeholders in successful miner self-escape, including other federal agencies, like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, state and local mining agencies, miner organizations, as well as the mine operators and miners themselves.

They differ in mission, and these specialized divisions and units add value of depth in expertise. However, bureaucratic divisions also facilitate isolation and discourage unity. A similar outcome might be expected from support by union leaders, foremen, and formal and informal leaders among section crews in mines. To promote motivation and accurate perception of the training, Salas and colleagues , p. As noted to the committee, the work force of the coal mine industry may be shifting, with an increase in younger workers as well as those with primary languages other than English.

Several researchers make a case for training. As younger miners enter the work force, this population might be more engaged in training that is presented through computers, virtual reality formats, or the Internet. Although digital training should not replace high-fidelity simulation or hands-on experience in threat-to-life training, it might be appropriate and effective for por- tions of self-escape training, such as case-based decision making, problem detection and awareness, medical and refuge decision criteria, common wayfinding mistakes, and best practices, presented digitally prior to actual practice.

Older employees may respond better to highly structured practice and traditional instructional materials Salas et al. Another important difference to keep in mind in assessing the work force is the difference between mine employees and contracted employees.

Research Summary

Currently, about one-fifth about 10, of the workers in underground mines are contractors. There is uncertainty about these workers in several regards: Such an approach would focus on the two critical parties to mine self-escape: It is clear from the extensive list of tasks given to the responsible person see Appendix A that the person cannot perform the tasks alone: Regardless of the composition of the team, or of other duties they perform when mine operations are nominal, each member of a responsible person team needs to be fully capable at all times for assuming the responsible person team role.

Training is an impor- tant component in the preparation of the miners, the responsible person, and the responsible person team. Across the mine industry as a whole, training for these critical groups appears to take place with little integration between them. Separate training is required for each of the groups; however, there seems to be few instances in which coordinated training occurs. The importance of integrated training is that it gives an opportunity for the groups to exercise their interrelated. Although at times this may involve a mine-wide exercise, great gains also can be made using a responsible person team and only one work group of miners.

Such a partial simulation would most benefit the surface personnel, who will have to periodically refresh their familiarity with escape procedures, and it is a good way to establish responsible person team procedures before applying them to mine-wide in- tegrated drills. The ultimate goal for training, however, is a fully integrated emergency response drill among everyone who would be involved in an escape situation, conducted on a regular basis see Recommendation 1 in Chapter 2. Types of Escapes Before an escape begins, the decision must be made as to whether the emergency can be resolved and so obviate the need to escape.

The detection and evaluation of the emergency and the kinds of decisions required to stay and resolve the emergency would be important elements in any comprehen- sive training program. As a first and obvious step, safety values need to be in place as part of prevention so that miners take care to avoid any actions that could start a fire or cause another emergency. As noted in previous chapters, the committee learned during its work that every mine and every emergency situation is unique.

However, there are some fundamental similarities as well. In Chapter 3, an example of a preliminary self-escape task analysis for underground miners is illustrated. That task analysis was useful in highlighting escape behaviors and potential decision points as well as identifying conditions that characterize different types of escapes. TRAINING finding and communications implications of possible environmental condi- tions, under which mine escapes occur, regardless of variations in the mines or personnel.

These basic circumstances are further defined by whether the escaping miner is alone or in a group. The environmental conditions deter- mine the technology that will have to be used, as well as the functional limi- tations of the individual or group during the escape.

Essential to wayfinding and decision making, sight and speech are key functional capabilities and may or may not be possible. These capabilities will be affected in part by smoke or limited lighting, which can restrict visibility, and the widely used SCSR technology, which limits speech. Therefore, miners must be trained to deal effectively with all six of the basic escape circumstances. During any specific escape, a miner is likely to experience more than one of these six circumstances over the course of the escape.

Mine Emergency Evacuation

A miner may be in thick smoke and with an SCSR and later come into fresh air, or vice versa; visibility may come and go as the escaping miner makes his way through escapeways; a miner also may begin in a group and then later become separated from that group, or vice versa. Training Across Types There will be important variances in a task analysis according to each circumstance and, consequently, variances in the specific training needed. For a complete picture, a task analysis is also needed for the job tasks of the responsible person and the responsible person team during an escape.

We can see that teamwork training, discussed further below, will be necessary for miners in Type 2 and, especially, Type 3 conditions, as well as for the responsible person and his team in all instances. Training designers should first address the worst-case scenario: Addressing the worst-case scenario first assures that all personnel in the mine share a common basic skill set and wayfinding ability. Comprehensive basic training will build confidence within the individual miner about leading a group out or fol- lowing a leader on a tagline3 under Type 1 conditions. It will also serve as a knowledge base from which each miner can contribute to group decision making if they are escaping under better conditions.

Because of the potential for shifting environmental conditions, indi- vidual miners have to be able to manage themselves and the appropriate technologies for each of these conditions. These needs require a flexible situational competency, in addition to the skills needed to deal with each of the basic conditions. Specifically, miners have to have situational awareness.

As discussed in Chapter 4, situational awareness is knowing what is around you, un- derstanding it, and being able to project what might happen in the future Endsley, ; Endsley and Garland, By drawing on the knowledge base of highly experienced miners, one can learn what types of environmental cues these experts notice and the decisions and actions they might invoke in each situation. This knowledge can then be taught to less experienced miners. It should be noted that situational awareness is important not only for miners underground but also for surface personnel.

Surface personnel could also be trained using the above-mentioned exper- tise approach, in terms of knowing what information is most important to communicate and receive from underground. Regardless of the type of escape, miners will benefit from training on common decision-making pitfalls and mistakes that tend to occur in emer- gency situations.

These include following through on an initial decision rather than considering alternative options, particularly if conditions change i. Common biases that can occur include not acknowledging an emergency situation early enough and decisions that are driven by panic, emotion, or fear, rather than a thorough consideration of all the information at hand: Training needs to include correct self-location and wayfinding in the mine, procedures for using and changing breathing devices, and decision making with regard to use of refuges and other beneficial technologies in.

Under Type 1 conditions, current breathing technologies prevent group problem solving and increase the importance of passive, embed- ded wayfinding aids, whether individuals are escaping solo or in a group. Individual miners should be trained to demonstrate mastery of individual and group wayfinding aids, and refresher training needs to be provided on a regular basis to maintain skills and knowledge.

As improved passive wayfinding and breathing technologies are put into place see Chapter 3 , self-escape training should be integrated with these aids and technologies. With Type 1 training and technologies as a base, organizations can address training individuals and teams for the slightly better conditions as- sociated with Type 2 escapes. In this situation, marginal visibility is present but breathing technologies prevent speech.

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With partial visibility, miners have some, although limited, ability to communicate through hand signs and headlamp signals. This ability enables some communication within the escape group, although no verbal contact with the responsible person team would be possible. Thus, training needs to address this rudimentary form of communi- cation. Similarly, it may be found that by adding just a few carefully selected signs e. Type 3 conditions of full sight and speech open up the possibility of training for effective decision making in groups of miners.

Under emergency conditions, not every decision can or should be made as a group. However, with speech comes the option for leaders to explain their perception of the situation, describe a plan, consider information and alternatives of- fered by others, delegate some actions, call the responsible person team outside the mine and exchange information, and so forth. Other miners in the group can offer factual information, provide reminders, suggest al- ternative courses of action, volunteer for tasks, give opinions, and provide other informational support to the leader and other group members.

With more information being shared throughout the escape process, either in an escape group or between an individual miner and the responsible person team, the chances are greater that the individual or group can choose better courses of action that fit the evolving conditions and particular difficulties encountered.

For miners who, in training, do not demonstrate competency at SCSR skills under Type 1 conditions, it cannot be assumed that they have the skills necessary to escape. Similarly, responsible persons and their teams. Type 2 and Type 3 circumstances permit more knowledge to be shared through vision and within-group communication, in contrast with Type 1, in which the group will have to rely heavily on the knowledge of the leader.

Type 3 conditions are well suited for training that covers leadership and followership behavior, maximizes the exchange of wayfinding and status information, and promotes effective courses of action. Also under Type 3 conditions, the responsible person and his delegates and the communica- tion center have an opportunity to work as a team to solicit, discuss, and provide information with escaping miners. Leaders and Followers Both leadership and followership become important skills under any of the escape types.

It is easy to understand how someone connected to a tagline and following a leader through thick smoke would want the leader to be fully and recently trained on wayfinding and making critical decisions about direction, resource locations, and refuges. Leaders on taglines must not only be well trained on these things must be visually identifiable as such, perhaps miners who have demonstrated competency in mine escape should be given a reflective helmet tag or some other identifiable symbol. Since an escape group also is likely to encounter Type 2 or 3 conditions during its escape, leadership training needs to include verbal leadership skills, such as soliciting information and opinions from others, exchanging information with the responsible person team, delegating, decision mak- ing, laying out alternative courses of action, communicating intentions and rationale, setting up and managing a refuge group.

The demands of escape conditions and the degree of time pressure will determine naturally the extent to which the group is able to discuss various alternatives. When there is time and the ability to speak, more group discussion and follower input can take place; when time is critically short, what is said must be concise and and clearly understood, and the leader needs to be able to be more autocratic. When to listen and when to dictate is an important deci- sion requiring good judgment, so training for leaders also needs to include situational leadership.

Followership is equally critical to successful team functioning under stress. In an escape situation, great responsibility is placed on the leader and followers to share information. Under Type 2 and 3 conditions, communication can be done. When to speak and when to keep quiet and when to insist and when to defer are all part of both lead- ership and followership. During a Type 1 escape, reminders and guidance sometimes can be shared by mumbling through the SCSR and through shoulder taps and other tactile ways. Followership should be taught in conjunction with leadership.


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Some rules for communication that could be useful in a mine emergency, especially between personnel on the surface and miners underground, are available from research on training: Responsible Person and Team Training Currently in the mine industry, attention seems to be on isolated train- ing for an individual responsible person U. Department of Labor, This is important of course, but the responsible person does not function alone during an escape. Under the current regulations, the responsible per- son must be trained to cover an enormous number of tasks in the event of a mine emergency.

Even if the responsible person is in contact with the communication center, one may likely concentrate on assuring that all miners are evacuated safely to the surface then making decisions focused on addressing the hazard itself. The responsible person needs to be aware of how decisions affect the self-escape efforts and must be trained to facilitate and aid the evacuation of miners. This must be a primary concern and anything done to mitigate the source of the emergency will, out of necessity, take a back seat to the escape under way. Therefore, it is important for other persons on the shift to be prepared to take over some of the secondary duties anticipated by.

It is important to have a clear line of authority described for every mine regarding who assumes the responsible person role and the different responsible person team member roles under the various possible scenarios. Under all conditions, the responsible person and the responsible person team would benefit from team coordination and decision-making training, such as crew-resource management training or one of its derivatives Salas et al. This kind of training addresses effective team communication, situational awareness, detection of problems, and good team leadership and followership behavior.

This training first requires that the responsible person team members be clearly distinguished and their roles be crisply defined. In this way, the functions of the team and its members are distin- guishable from other incident response teams that may be involved in an emergency. A major review of research on team training Cannon-Bowers and Bowers, , which has primarily occurred in the military and aviation, identifies several things of particular interest to mine escape teams and responsible person teams.

One is that teams under time pressure rely on existing, shared knowledge or shared mental models of the situation and of each other. Thus, training to build shared team knowledge of what to do under different escape conditions and circumstances would be benefi- cial for both in-mine and above-ground teams. Among the many aspects of team training reviewed, scenario-based training and team coordination and adaptation training appear to be particularly suited to both miner and responsible person team preparation for escape.

Since there is little history of formal responsible person team training in the mining industry, team coordination and adaptation training could build on the considerable knowledge of current responsible persons. Cannon-Bowers and Bowers also point out that there is signifi- cant evidence from learning research to support scenario-based training. Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents. An essential prerequisite to effective risk management. Quality in Health Care, 10 Suppl. Some characteristics of one type of high reliability organization.

Orga- nization Science, 1 2 , Defining high reliability organizations in practice: Safe operation as a social construct. Ergonomics, 42 11 , The science of train- ing and development in organizations: What matters in practice. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13 2 , Safety in the mining industry and the unfinished legacy of mining accidents: Safety levers and defenses-in-depth for addressing mining hazards. Safety Science, 49 6 , Organizational Culture and Leadership 4th ed.

Presentation at the Energy Forum: Motor Control and Learning: A Behavioral Emphasis 5th ed. Neural mechanisms mediat- ing optimism bias. Nature, , The development of spatial representations of large-scale environments. The culture of safety: Quality and Safety in Health Care, 12, The empirical case for two systems of reasoning. Psychological Bulletin, 1 , Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debate? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23 5 , Cognitive Psychology 3rd ed. Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men.

United Mine Workers of America. Report on the Sago Mine Disaster of January 2, Fatal Underground Coal Mine Fire. Responding to a Mine Emergency: Fatal Underground Mine Explo- sion April 5, Annual Coal Report Revised University of Kentucky, Department of Sociology. Landmarks as beacons and associative cues: Their role in route learning.

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Perfusion functional MRI reveals cerebral blood flow pattern under psycho- logical stress. Presentation to the Committee on Mine Safety: Organizing for High Reliability: Pro- cesses of Collective Mindfulness. What Are the Op- tions? An Introduction to Human Factors Engi- neering. Upper Saddle River, NJ: International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 14 2 , Expertise as mental set: The effects of domain knowledge in creative problem solving.

Memory and Cognition, 26 4 , A history of job analysis. Evi- dence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science, , Regulatory Governance and Risk Management: Coal mine disasters in the United States are relatively rare events; many of the roughly 50, miners underground will never have to evacuate a mine in an emergency during their careers. However, for those that do, the consequences have the potential to be devastating. Investigations have centered on understanding both how to prevent or mitigate emergencies and what capabilities are needed by miners to self-escape to a place of safety successfully.

This report focuses on the latter - the preparations for self-escape. However, the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in served as a reminder to remain ever vigilant on improving the prevention of mine disasters and preparations to help miners survive in the event of emergencies.

This study was set in the context of human-systems integration HSI , a systems approach that examines the interaction of people, tasks, and equipment and technology in the pursuit of a goal. It recognizes this interaction occurs within, and is influenced by, the broader environmental context. A key premise of human-systems integration is that much important information is lost when the various tasks within a system are considered individually or in isolation rather than in interaction with the whole system. Improving Self-Escape from Underground Coal Mines , the task of self-escape is part of the mine safety system.

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