Introducing innovative new or improved products into any industry can be challenging and costly for both the supplier and in some cases the stakeholders where time and effort go into change management and ensuring employee acceptance.
More often than not these costs are more than justified in the end with the improvements to health and safety, as well as long term savings in maintenance and replacement costs and of course productivity. Innovation in mining today is intrinsic to long term efficiency, to ensure that sites achieve more, in a safe, fast and cost-effective way.
For the team at Safescape being involved in an organisation focused on innovative solutions for the mining industry and working with likeminded companies who are looking for solutions which offer long term efficiency, and ultimately sustainability through best practice is exciting and rewarding, but not without its challenges.
Since our first installation in 2010 we have installed over 15,000m in nine countries. Safescape Laddertube was designed to replace traditional escapeway ladders, which are typically galvanised steel mesh caged ladders.
Underground escapeway ladderways are constantly exposed to groundwater and seepage, which contribute to corrosion, particularly in highly saline groundwater conditions. As a consequence steel ladderways require regular maintenance to ensure that salt and rust forming on the ladder rungs are cleaned away. It is difficult to ascertain to what extent the steel has corroded over time and the safety of the ladderway is compromised. Furthermore, the steel mesh cage does not provide adequate protection for miners from rock falls.
Safescape Laddertube certainly makes it possible for employers to meet "the employer’s general duty under s.9 of the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 to (so far as is practicable) provide and maintain a working environment in which its employees are not exposed to hazards is drawn to the attention of all employers and managers in the mining industry, as is the more specific duty to provide and maintain appropriate systems of work."
While there is no doubt that steel ladders have served a purpose in the past, being able to provide mines with a system that is safe to install, negates the need to put people in the rise to bolt and mesh fretting ground and provides a fall arrest system keeping climbers safe from risk of fall from height (means having a system that is currently best practice in terms of safety. Add to that the cost savings in time to install, time to maintain and removing the need to replace due to corrosion and it seems like a no brainer.
In ‘standard’ installations there have been on occasion changes in the ground conditions which have resulted in significant fretting or rock burst causing deformation in the Laddertube. As a result we have developed a number of proactive solutions that can be used at the time of installation which will eliminate or minimise the effects of ground that is not ‘competent’. Where problematic ground conditions have not been foreseen by sites and damage has occurred, in most cases, the problem has been easily remedied with little to no downtime as the ladderway remains useable with climbers protected from fretting rock. Pictures below are before and after shots of repairs. Although the before shot shows obvious deformation there is no rock exposure within the escapeway.
Feedback from Safescape client "As I have discussed before, from the outside it may look like the laddertubes were the issue but that wasn’t the case. Anything in a 1.1m raise with these conditions would have been compromised, perhaps even quicker than a laddertube because there is more exposure to surrounding rock mass".
Safescape Laddertube has evolved in the five years since the initial design and now provides clients with a number of options which result in cost advantages and safety on a much larger scale than originally envisaged.
These developments have come about through some trial and error and commitment to improvement from both Safescape and clients. It is important for us firstly to dispel some of the myths in the industry that may be in existence as a result of misinformation and secondly to highlight the fact that sometimes in the search for improvement and best practice things don’t go perfectly.
What it does present is an opportunity to identify a better solution. It is important to also note that ensuring people are safe and commercial impact minimised is at the forefront of our minds as we improve the status quo in an industry which values safety. The obvious advantages of safe installation process, minimal time and resource requirement during installation, fall arrest system for users, reduced maintenance time due to the sealed nature of the ladder minimising / eliminating salt and rock build up on steps / platforms and elimination of corrosion which negates the need for regular thickness testing and weld checks as required / recommended by DOCEP, are just a few of the advantages of installing Safescape Laddertube.
Safescape have a number of exciting developments on the way and are proud to work with our clients to improve safety, efficiency and costs. We could certainly not have come as far as we have without the support of individuals and companies prepared to make changes in the pursuit of best practice.