Emergency refuge chambers in mining

Strata Refuge Chamber image

Strata Refuge Chamber

9th June 2022


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“When emergency strikes and miners underground are unable to evacuate, providing them with a sustained source of safe breathing air is critical,” states Strata Worldwide’s US GM of refuge products Dave Maust.

Over the years, mining operations have learned that it is imperative to have a proactive contingency plan in place to safeguard against the possibility of an event underground leaving people unable to escape. It is a necessity to provide an isolated environment into which workers can retreat to find temporary security and shelter while they await rescue, or the event is resolved.

Mine refuge chambers were introduced into mining operations many years ago for this reason, and through decades of experience and countless applications, these safety systems have become commonplace in mining around the world.

Strata Worldwide is a global supplier of emergency refuge chambers and first introduced its line in 2007. Along with its traditional steel-sided walk-in, the company pioneered a completely air-powered inflatable chamber and an air-powered carbon dioxide (CO2) scrubber for use in gaseous environments such as underground coal mines.

In 2020, Strata unveiled a newly designed electrical walk-in chamber which provides greater flexibility in custom configurations and is more easily tailored to meet local and industry regulations. The Strata ERCX boasts a list of standard and custom features and upgrades, including the latest in intelligent technologies for communication, automation and remote monitoring and control.

Structurally, all ERCX units have the available option of an airlock entrance compartment, sectioned off from the main chamber and having an optional purge air system; the purge air flushes the airlock prior to people entering the main compartment to ensure the integrity of the air quality inside the chamber.

Robust wheel and tow-hitch packages are available on all Strata chambers. These are available as options, with the further availability of extreme-duty wheels and high-clearance wheels. The wheels and towing packages facilitate easier and safer maneuverability of the chamber by enabling mines to tow the unit underground as opposed to dragging on its skid base or having available suitable machinery for lifting and carrying. 

Potential heat and humidity build-up caused by humans sitting in an enclosed area can be dangerous and detrimental to their health and safety. Having the ability to cool the air can become vital and Strata’s chambers are equipped with highly efficient, low power draw air conditioning units. These systems have self-regulating thermostats to ensure a constant and comfortable air temperature is maintained without draining battery power. Life support batteries power the air conditioning units for the dedicated time duration of the chamber in the event main power supply is lost.

Live Monitoring and Communications 

In an emergency when the chambers are used, the separation between personnel in the chamber and surface rescue operations can be drastically reduced with the incorporation of Strata’s Intelligent Monitoring, Alert, Communication and Control (IMACC) system.

This system provides connectivity between underground refuge chambers to the surface via the mine’s main communication network. The IMACC system can be integrated into any existing network system, including leaky feeder*.

Regardless of the emergency at hand, keeping lines of communication open to individuals underground will undoubtedly provide a higher level of comfort as they await rescue. A real-time information feed from the chamber strengthens the safety and effectiveness of the rescue operation.

*DigitalBridge Plus+™ line amplifiers for passing Ethernet data required

Made in South Africa

In June 2021, Strata Worldwide’s South African facility, also known as SP Mine Safety, completed its first locally built ERCX units for a gold mine in Namibia. These 12-person refuge chambers were produced in partnership with steel fabricator Jewll Industries.

Once in place underground, Strata’s refuge chamber product manager Tom Long, along with Strata’s Trolex product specialist Chris Underhay, traveled to the mine site in Namibia to commission the chambers and conduct operational training for mine personnel.

“This mine has been in operation since the ‘80s but has been an open-pit facility,” states Long. “They are now moving into underground mining and purchasing the safety chambers was one of their first priorities in phase one of the process.”

Following this, Strata South Africa built and shipped a 12-person, 36-hour chamber that featured a purging airlock for a uranium mine in North Africa. Uranium particles are toxic to humans when inhaled, and the mine opted for the purging airlock compartment with a secondary steel door to ensure the highest level of safety for their personnel. People entering the chamber gather in the airlock with the secondary door closed and use compressed air to flush out the mine air in the airlock. Once completed, the secondary door inside the chamber is opened and the workers enter the main, airtight compartment.

Arriving underground, the chamber was connected to the mine’s external compressed air supply and power mains, which gives it an indefinite supply of both resources. If either are lost, the chamber is equipped with 36 hours of back-up air supply and battery power.

For additional safety and comfort, the mine elected to include the chamber air conditioning system, as well as the Trolex Sentro8 SensorStation. The Sentro8 is mounted on the rear wall of the chamber and actively monitors carbon monoxide, CO2 and oxygen levels within the chamber during emergency use. The mine has the option to connect their chamber to the mine’s communication network to stream data to the surface. This will enable surface operations to monitor the activities and atmospheric conditions inside the chamber on a user interface.

More on Strata’s IMACC System Capabilities

Real-time emergency communication and monitoring with connection to the mine’s network:

  • VoIP phone
  • Ceiling-mounted fish-eye camera for video surveillance
  • Environmental sensors for atmospheric and battery power monitoring

Long-term/standby remote maintenance and sensor monitoring:

  • Battery voltages
  • Battery charger function
  • External power source voltage
  • Chamber tampering/access

Remote control, custom viewing, data logging and history reporting available with the IMACC advanced system and full integration into the operation’s communication network for:

  • Visually identify all chambers on interactive mine map
  • Remote control of systems and equipment with sophisticated input capabilities
    • Sensor alarm thresholds
    • Air conditioner settings
    • Back-up battery usage
  • Log data and view history within custom date ranges including video footage

Watch an animated video of the Strata ERCX

Strata refuge chambers are available for sale globally. For more information, please contact us at one of our global offices:

RSA: +27 12 450 0960

US: + 1 301.895.8025

AUS: +61 2 4960 9705



Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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