Increased scrutiny on mine safety and targets for zero harm have ensured that emergency refuge chambers (ERC) have become vital to mining operations, and mining safety solutions provider Strata Worldwide has launched its new Global ERCX model.
“This new ERC design uses a new manufacturing process that provides increased flexibility in customisation. This, coupled with a reduced lead time for clients, is an improvement on previous ranges,” says Strata South Africa product manager Tom Long.
Originally introduced in South African mining in 1970, following an underground fire at a Gold Fields mine, the concept and design of chambers have advanced, as they have become a requirement in all mining environments.
Strata ERCs safeguard mineworkers if they get trapped underground or if the air-quality in the mine is compromised. It is designed to provide life-sustaining, breathable air and shelter amid sudden air contamination or an inability to evacuate the mine.
As a mine develops, demand for ERCs increases.
“There is an international standard that requires ERCs to be 750 m apart from one another. “This makes the logistics of transporting ERCs down the mine much easier, as mine developments can accommodate the need for these chambers at intervals of 750 m. Mine operators, therefore, know that there should ERCs at certain points and conduct mine operations with this in mind,” explains Long.
Strata ERCs for African mining markets are manufactured in South Africa, with the assembly processes taking place in Jet Park, Gauteng. Strata also has manufacturing facilities in the US, Mexico and Australia.
“The ERC is either transported by road using a flatbed truck, for local mining operations, or in a 6 ft or 12 ft shipping container for mining operations north of the border. “Other than the fact that ERCs tend to be heavy and need to be transported with safety measures in place, there are no real challenges from a logistics perspective,” explains Long.
He adds, however, that there must be a crane or forklift on site to remove an ERC from the flatbed or the container.
Strata manufactures four- to 30-person ERCs and manufacturing lead times range from four to eight weeks.
In addition to size modifications and variations, Strata can also provide additional modifications such as adapting the chamber to accommodate people for longer.
Long explains that, legally, ERCs are required to sustain life for up to 36 hours, which is typically the length of time it takes for rescue teams to attend to people who are trapped. Strata can ensure that the ERC’s life-sustaining capabilities can be extended to 48 hours or 96 hours; the latter of which is the standard for ERCs in US coal mines, Mexico and China.
Strata also offers modular structural modifications, such as chambers divided into segments and assembled underground. The company also provides wheel and tow-hitch packages, and airlock entrance compartments with secondary doors to minimise the entrance of air contaminants. This is mostly required for coal mines.