Technology: World-first mine rescue technology tested in South Africa
January 2021 marked a milestone for both South Africa and global mine rescue and safety protocols. testing of a new mobile rescue winder ‒ developed by the non-profit Mines Rescue Services (MRS) in collaboration with the Minerals Council South Africa, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and labour at South Deep's Twin Shaft. The mobile rescue winder, a world-first technology, will allow proto teams to access shafts and carry out rescue operations at depths of 3 000 metres if required. It can carry up to six people at a time, as well as equipment and medical supplies. Previously, rescue winders could reach depths of 1 200 metres. Said Mannas Fourie, CEO of Mines Rescue Services, "Eight out of the ten deepest mines in the world are located in South Africa. Once the mobile rescue winder has been fully licenced by the DMRE, we will be able to access employees located at depths of up to 3 000 metres faster than we were able to before in the event of an emergency."
With traditional equipment, rescuers have to lift miners several hundred metres, then drop them off on a platform, then repeat the same process once or even twice more. And because older winches can only carry a single miner at once, all at a leisurely 0,8m per second, you’re potentially looking at dozens of trips up and down a mine shaft. Things risk being even slower if, like many rescue winches, you first need to hook the system up to the mine’s power supply. “If you look at the critical time to rescue people,” said Fourie, “you haven’t got that time to waste.”
As the famous ‘golden hour’ rule states, receiving treatment within 60 minutes of a traumatic injury increases the chance of surviving by over 80 percent. And though exact statistics are scarce, Fourie’s broader argument is mirrored by incidents at specific mines.
Fourie and his colleagues have worked hard to make their equipment effective in other ways. Doing away with cumbersome mine-powered approaches as well as hydraulic alternatives that required operators to fiddle with pressure valves as they descended, the MRS machine is run through a self-contained generator.
In practice, that means rescuers can get down to the business of actually helping miners even sooner, particularly useful in countries like South Africa, where power cuts are fairly common.
Even better, Fourie has clearly thought about rescue missions as a collective enterprise. With rescue winders stationed in Carletonville, just north of several gold mines, he says a team can be deployed within the hour.
Collaboration is another important piece of the puzzle. To secure a licence for the new platform, for instance, Fourie says that MRS worked closely with the South African Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.
Arguably even more important was liaising with trade unions, as well as the miners themselves. Given these are ultimately the people actually risking their lives down the shaft – and the ones who’ll be relying on the MRS to save them in case of emergency – this seems wise.
Said Martin Preece, executive vice president Gold Fields South Africa, "Our single most important job is to ensure that each and every employee returns home safely and unharmed at the end of every day. We are very proud to have been able to assist MRS with the testing and licencing of the mobile rescue winder. South Deep's Twin Shaft is unique in that it is the deepest single drop shaft in the world, reaching 3 000 metres. The new mobile rescue winder puts us in reach of any mining operation in South Africa in the event of an incident that prevents us from bringing our people back to surface and will allow us to do so rapidly. It is an insurance policy we hope we never have to use, but feel comforted to have."
"This is a world-first technology, developed in South Africa, by South Africans, for the South African mining industry," concluded Mannas Fourie.
Source: Mines Rescue Services