Australia's national science agency is working on developing technologies to improve mine safety and help the industry meet its commitment to achieving Zero Harm. CSIRO research director for sustainable mining technologies, HUA GUO, writes

Dr Hua Gao, CSIRO Program Director for Sustainable Mining Technology

Dr Hua Gao, CSIRO Program Director for Sustainable Mining Technology  ©Leah Desborough

Mine safety is always the priority

Rates of mining injuries and fatalities have fallen across the mining sector in Australia over the past two decades. However, further improvements are still needed in order to completely eliminate hazards and potential harm to mine workers.

Underground coal mines have seen the sharpest reduction of the lost time injury frequency rate, and yet remain one of the most hazardous of all mine types, due to the nature of the mine environment. Improving coal mine safety is therefore a key priority of CSIRO’s mining research.

Underground mine hazards

Some of the fatal hazards in underground coal mines are caused by strata failure, fire and explosion, methane gas, mobile equipment, groundwater inrush, coal and rock outbursts, and respirable dust.

The mining industry's number one priority and commitment is the safety and health of its workforce, and has set itself the goal of achieving Zero Harm.

Zero Harm is the minimum safety standard

Zero Harm to people is the minimum standard for all operational decisions. Every mine worker who goes to work must return home safe and in good health.

As mining is increasingly conducted at greater depths and in more geological complex conditions, remote and autonomous operations are becoming necessary to take people out of hazardous environments, away from the mining face. This will significantly reduce risks associated with underground coal mining, such as rock falls, bursts, water ingress, machine‑people interactions, and manual handlings.

Managing risks at greater mine depths

To achieve this goal, the industry needs to embrace digital transformation with real-time sensing and communication, fast data analytics, intelligent mining and processing systems, as well as comprehensive knowledge of the deposit and the host rock and their behaviours during and after mining.

At CSIRO, we have world-class skills and expertise that support mining safety research including geosciences; characterisation, monitoring and control of ground; mine ventilation; capture and mitigation of mine methane; mine fire and explosion prevention; groundwater assessment and treatment; mine environment measurement and modelling (such as mine 3D imaging); mining equipment navigation and control; sensing and communications; and mining and processing automation.

We have a solid and sustained track record of collaborating with the industry, and delivering world-leading technologies, practical solutions and substantial benefits to the sector. We are well positioned to help the industry achieve its Zero Harm goal.

Longwall mining automation

Already, the CSIRO-developed longwall automation technology (commonly called LASC) is being used at about two‑thirds of Australian longwall coal mines to remove operators from hazardous areas.

Managing fugitive emissions and airbourne dust

New coal mine methane-capture methods are improving mining safety and productivity, and at the same time are reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

We've also developed methods and techniques to reduce mine operators' exposure to airborne respirable dust, and diesel particulate matter.

Another area of CSIRO innovation is in microseismic systems to detect surface and underground mine stability.

3D scanning for improved safety

And our 3D rock and mine scanning systems to measure ground and equipment conditions and movement with photogrammetry, and laser and seismic techniques are also improving mine safety.

Integration of these technologies into mining processes and systems will help the industry improve working conditions for mine workers and move towards Zero Harm.

CSIRO's coal mining research portfolio is the nation's largest multidisciplinary research concentration and a global leader working across the value chain. This places us at the forefront of mining and processing technologies needed to maximise the value of Australian resources in a safe and environmentally‑responsible way.

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