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Australian Coal Mine to Enhance Safety Using RFID

The mine's operators plan to employ lamp batteries fitted with 433 MHz active tags to locate and manage about 250 underground miners, as well as vehicles.
By Beth Bacheldor
The NL Technologies solution also incorporates a gas- and air-flow monitoring system that employs sensors to measure such gases as methane and carbon dioxide, as well as air flow, within the mine. If an emergency arises, the administrators can redirect miners to safer areas within the zone by combining tracking and monitoring data. This tells them the miners are located, as well as and the gas levels in various zones. The administrators can then send the miners that information via Messenger.

Another unique aspect to this solution is that it can be used in the event of a mining emergency. Typically, when an accident occurs, networks and communications systems must be powered down to prevent further troubles. For example, in the Sago, W.Va., mining accident of January 2006, in which 12 miners lost their lives, the power had to be shut off in the mine to avoid additional explosions. Thus, rescuers had no way of locating the miners' position or monitoring gas levels. "The rescuers," Rose says, "had to proceed very slowly and very carefully because of the potential of hazardous gases."

Consequently, NL Technologies, which first announced a version of its monitoring network in October 2004, spent the past three years re-engineering the hardware infrastructure to make it intrinsically safe. "The circuitry has been designed to operate at a very low power," Rose explains, "so in the event of a short circuit, there'll be no sparks."

NL Technologies is working on getting approvals for its intrinsic safety features from both the U.S. Department of Labor's Mines Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and TestSafe Australia, a testing, certification, research and investigation facility.

At the end of May, NL Technologies will begin installing its RFID-enabled network in the Grasstree mine, an underground coking coal mine owned and operated by Anglo Coal Australia, and located in central Queensland, Australia. The implementation will use RFID tags to track about 250 miners initially, and will eventually include vehicles as well.

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