Ground Control in the Underground Coal Mines of Colombia

Mark, Christopher
Organization: International Conference on Ground Control in Mining
Pages: 8
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2014
Colombia is 11th largest coal producing nation in the world, and the world?s fifth largest coal exporter. But while most of Colombia?s coal is mined at large modern surface mines located near the Caribbean coast, there are also underground mines that produce high-grade metallurgical coal. These mines employ traditional hand-loading techniques in a variety of geologic environments, and they have some of the highest accident rates of any Colombian industry. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has been collaborating with POSITIVA, the primary provider of worker?s compensation insurance to the Colombian underground coal industry, to reduce the economic and social cost of rock falls in these mines. The specific goals of the collaboration are to 1) document practices and conditions in Colombian underground coal mines, 2) identify relevant international best practices, and 3) provide recommendations for developing a national campaign to reduce fatalities and injuries associated with roof falls. NIOSH conducted a survey of seven underground coal mines in four separate coalfields. Five of the mines were characterized by steep dips and weak roof and floor rock. The coal was loaded by hand at all seven mines, though two employed partially mechanized longwall techniques. Wood posts were by far the most common ground support. Roof bolts were not observed in use at any of the mines, and they are unlikely to replace timbers any time soon. While long-term entries generally appeared to be adequately supported, the survey found that less attention was paid to the temporary support that is installed right after the coal is removed. This temporary support is critical for protecting the workers from rock falls, however, because with hand-loading mining methods most of the activity takes place between the permanent supports and face. The study concluded that improving the temporary support in the working faces would be the most effective way to reduce the number of rock fall injuries. The key principle should be that every worker is protected by planned roof support at all times. Ground Support Management Plans, consisting of specific rules about when, where, and what roof support is to be installed, should be the focus of the campaign. Each Plan should be tailored to a specific mine based on the geologic conditions and mining methods in use. The Plan provides miners with clear, simple rules that can be easily understood, while management can easily check to see if it is being followed. Ground Support Management Plans will also provide the campaign with a concrete focus for the necessary cultural change.
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