August 2009

Students master mine rescues

Mining engineering students get hands-on safety training

By J. Drake

There’s a fire in a mine a mile below the earth’s surface, it’s filling with smoke, visibility is zero and three people are missing. Thankfully, a group of Queen’s University students now know what to do. A new course on mine safety, offered on campus for the first time at the end of April, attracted mining engineering graduate students to such an extent that they stayed a week after term just to complete the valuable course.

“Some schools offer downloadable safety courses that you work on from your computer,” said James Archibald, professor of mining engineering at Queen’s, “but this kind of hands-on, field training simply cannot be duplicated on a screen. It is an absolute necessity for these students.”

During the first part of the week, students trained in a classroom. They learned how to detect different mine gases, assess cave-ins, operate complex breathing apparatus, work as a team and rescue trapped miners. Their final test took place in the basement of Goodwin Hall where a mock mine accident was constructed. They geared up, checked their instruments and headed into the smoke-filled, simulated shaft to find, evaluate and rescue three victims” who were quietly lying in the pitch-black conditions.

“We had ten third- and fourth-year students taking this specialized class,” said Vic Pakalnis, professor of mining engineering, “and these students are now better equipped to deal with their own safety and the safety of others in this very important industry.”

The Mines and Aggregates Safety and Health Association (MASHA) hosted the course. They provide mine safety training and support for the Mine Rescue Organization in Ontario. Students who pass the course receive a certificate from MASHA and join a force of about 800 volunteers that fights underground fires and rescues trapped or injured workers. The mining industry in Canada is among the safest in the world and the Queen’s Mining Department is the largest in the country. The organizers of this year’s event hope to place Queen’s graduates as safety advocates at every mine in Canada.

“These mining engineering students will go on to be managers,” commented Oscar Rielo, chief technologist, mining engineering. “This is important because they can enforce safety from the top levels. They will make the decisions on what happens inside the mines.”

This first safety course was such a success that the Department of Mining Engineering hopes to soon offer it twice a year, with sessions in the spring and fall.

Reproduced with permission from the Queen’s Gazette.

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