Corporate commitment and sound engineering practice to ensure safety in the workplace at Quinsam coal mine

Abstract A strong corporate commitment to safety and sound engineering practices have resulted in dramatic improvements to the safety record at the Quinsam mine of Quinsam Coal Corporation (QCC), wholly owned by Hillsborough Resources Inc. of Vancouver. Quinsam coal mine is about 25 km west of Campbell River on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Using continuous miners in a fully mechanized retreat room-and-pillar operation, it produces low sulphur, super compliance thermal coal for domestic and international markets at a rate of about 2600 tpd from two development sections and one depillar section. Currently, 65 hourly and staff work at the site, including some corporate employees.
Opened in 1993, the Qunsam coal mine had a dismal safety record until 1997. Lost time injuries and medical aids were unacceptably high. In 1998, a change in corporate structure brought a change in safety attitudes: a total and unequivocal commitment to safety as job No. 1 by corporate and site management. This commitment was clearly spelled out in a new mission statement, circulated to all employees by the new president and CEO, David Slater: “Safety is Job No.1; Production flows from safety; and Think safety at all times.” As well as re-defining workplace safety practices, QCC tightened engineering practices and enforced strict adherence to mine plans.
Mine layouts are modelled using the NIOSH ARMPS software to ensure pillar stability during development and retreat mining. Five entry panels from 700 m to 1100 m in length are employed with rectangular pillars 16 m by 38 m or 44 m in size, leaving a 30 m barrier pillar against any adjacent depillared workings. These sizes ensure an adequate safety factor and suit the production method by limiting unnecessary conveyor and power moves. Development entry dimensions are 6 m wide by 2.8 m in height, driven in the top of the 3 m to 4 m thick seam. Floor coal left to provide a good running surface during development is extracted on retreat. Primary ground support consists of 2.4 m long tensioned resin point-anchored on 1.2 m centres with wire roof mesh. Soft or loose rock in the roof is mined or raked down with the continuous miner to ensure the safety of the roof bolting crews.
The mine area is characterized by significant faulting. During the development stage, entries are surveyed and mapped. All pronounced geological features are logged and marked on mine plans. Regular meetings are held with operations crews to discuss the impact of geological structure on mine safety. Untensioned point-anchored cable bolts 4 m in length are installed to provide additional support in areas of geological weakness. During development in areas of weakened roof, the normal extended cut lengths of 9 m are reduced to 6 m or even 3 m to ensure the stability of the roof between cutting and roof support.
During retreat mining, the removal of coal from beneath a major structural feature can result in dangerous roof conditions or major roof falls. Depillaring plans are prepared in advance based on the geological mapping. Fenders are left beneath faults and wedges, and two-man crews of experienced workers are employed to watch the continuous miner and to watch for signs of roof instability.
QCC’s corporate commitment to excellence in safety performance, combined with sound engineering practice to ensure a safe workplace, has resulted in provincial and national recognition. Quinsam coal mine has won the BC Small Mines Safety Award for the past five years. In 2001 and 2003, the mine won the coveted John T. Ryan Safety Award. QCC remains committed to excellence in safety performance, and will continue to operate with a strong commitment to safety as job No. 1.
Keywords: Quinsam coal mine, Safety practices, Occupational Health and Safety Committee, Room-and-pillar mining
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