1 - Introduction

Over the last two decades, safety-related research in underground coal mining in Canada has been typically carried out by the operating companies through a combination of in-house expertise, specialist contractors/consultants and government researchers. The latter input has primarily been provided through the Mining & Mineral Sciences Laboratories (MMSL) of the Canada Centre for Mineral & Energy Technology (CANMET) of the federal department of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan, formerly Energy Mines & Resources).

CANMET's research directions continue to evolve in response to changing needs of clients - both external and internal clients. The most recent development has been the establishment of a new research initiative in this area, known as the Underground Coal Mining Safety Research Collaboration (UCMSRC).

The underground coal mining industry in Canada is now small, geographically wide spread and continues to suffer trying times in terms of both difficult mining conditions and financial hardship. Within this context, this web page describes UCMSRC, which is targeted at two goals: (i) maintaining a focus on safety-related research; and (ii) harnessing the synergy of regular dialogue to share experience and to work to achieve common industry goals. This web page outlines in turn the background, development, establishment, key features, initial progress and potential future development of this new research initiative.

2 - Development

The Federal Government's 1995 Program Review within CANMET involved a business case evaluation of all programs. CANMET's Cape Breton Coal Research Laboratory (CBCRL) in Sydney, Nova Scotia was re-profiled as a research program known as the Coal Mining Health & Safety Program (CMHS). A 3-year plan to attain financial self-sufficiency was established in 1996 and reviewed in late 1997 when it was reluctantly recognized that, with a small client base, recent strong performance was clearly not sustainable in the long term. It was announced in February 1998 that CMHS and hence the CANMET Sydney Laboratory should cease operations in March 1998. However, CANMET made clear their desire to stay active in this research area.

In the summer of 1998, CANMET approached CMHS stakeholders for their ideas on how CANMET could continue to meet their technology research needs in this field. A questionnaire was sent to 22 stakeholders including operators, inspectors, regulators, researchers (government, private, universities). These stakeholders cover all the current jurisdictions involved in underground coal mining: Federal, Alberta, British Columbia & Nova Scotia. Of the 13 responses received, 11 were supportive. Workplace safety and health remain important factors in underground coal mining and there is strong support by the stakeholders for CANMET to continue collaborative research in underground coal mining safety.

A draft agreement, including work plans for the initial project areas, was prepared and circulated to stakeholders for consideration. It was finalized as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for UCMSRC on September 24, 1998. Seventeen stakeholder organizations signed the MOU to become participants in UCMSRC, with 2 other organizations requesting a continuing role but as Associate Members (without voting priveleges). The participants include: operators, labour, regulators, inspectors and university researchers, across four jurisdictions (Federal, Nova Scotia, Alberta, British Columbia). The MOU outlined the basic details of what the UCMSRC is about, how it will work, how it is funded and what is required of participants, see section 3 below.

The MOU has since been renewed 3 times over the period October 1, 2000 to September 30, 2003. However, in order to facilitate those Stakeholders/Participants who were unable to sign the MOU due to "legal" concerns, a more simplified Letter of Understanding (LOU) was prepared for the period October 1, 2003 to September 30, 2004 to replace the MOU. The LOU is renewed for each subsequent year.

Committed to constructive dialogue and project implementation, participants benefit from (i) dialogue with others involved in the underground coal mining industry across Canada; and (ii) participating in project selection and research work and also sharing the findings of the research done.

3 - Key Features

3.1 - Structure and Operation of UCMSRC

The purpose of UCMSRC is to provide a forum for dialogue and research involving stakeholders in Canadian jurisdictions where underground coal mining is active. The main goal is to contribute to improving safety and health in underground coal mining in Canada by identifying and addressing related "gaps" in technology and knowledge in key areas common to current/potential operating mines.

The organizational structure is relatively simple:

The prime means of communication is by telephone conference call. Typically participation in the collaboration involves commitment of less than 1 day per month of participants' time, plus one visit per year to a 'round table' meeting.

The Executive Committee strives to reach consensus on all matters. In the event of an impasse, decisions are made by a simple majority of those present, with the chair having the casting vote. Also, any approved project work involving work at a mine site will also require prior written approval from the operating company.

The Technical Advisor facilitates the on-going technical work. These duties include:

3.2 - Resources & Funding

For the first 5 years there were no cash contributions/payments required from participants except for CANMET. UCMSRC relies on in-kind contributions from all participants to ensure the work (as defined for projects approved by the Executive Committee) can be achieved. CANMET provided not only in-kind resources to support up to 2 full time position equivalents and appropriate administrative costs but also provided direct financial resources to support up to 3 postgraduate students across the three provinces and direct financial support for a technical advisor ($25k per year). The in-kind contributions include provision at no cost to UCMSRC of the following: appropriate time of staff, support services (admin/secretarial/technologist/etc.), materials, equipment and approvals (e.g. in the case of any in-mine work), and travel, accommodation expenses (e.g. to attend occasional in-person meetings).

Unfortunately, due to reduced CANMET - MMSL budgets, direct funding for UCMSRC was ended in September 2003. Despite the lack of direct funding, CANMET - MMSL continues to support UCMSRC by providing up to 2 full time position equivalents, maintaining the "secure" web site, appropriate administration costs, etc. UCMSRC looked at alternative sources of funding. In the fall of 2003 the 3 provinces (Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia) where there is underground coal mining were approached. Each province was requested to contribute $7,500. Nova Scotia and Alberta each contributed $7,500 for a total of $15,000 on a "one-time" basis. How to obtain future funding continues as an important issue with UCMSRC and various avenues are currently being explored.

In 2006/2007 UCMSRC became a part of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum's (CIM) Coal and Oil Sands Society. This has been a positive move by the Coal Collaboration. UCMSRC was also able to receive funding from the Coal and Oil Sand Society which was used to fund graduate students in undertaking research projects.

3.3 - Project Work

3.3.1 - Project Selection

The Executive Committee seeks projects with significant potential impact, e.g. on safety and also on production and/or resource utilization, and with as wide as possible support from participants. The following Project Selection/Approval criteria apply:

3.3.2 - Current/Completed Projects

  1. Technical Forum - (Ongoing)
  2. Web Site (Ongoing)
    1. Development and maintenance of "secure" web site - G. Bonnell
    2. Development and maintenance of "non-secure" web site - P. Cain
  3. Fact Sheet on the Use of Light Metals & Their Alloys in Underground Coal Mines - Project Leader: D. Forrester / G. Bonnell (completed)
  4. Electrical Equipment - Hazardous Location Zoning - Project Leader: D. Young (completed)
  5. Methane Cut-off Requirements - Project Leader: D. Young (completed)
  6. Geo-technical Assessment Project - input from J. Vance and Rock Property testing by CANMET - J. Vance Project Leader (in-kind contribution)
    1. The Standardization of Geological Assessment at Underground Coal Mines in Canada - Steve Forgeron (Chief Geologist at CBDC) - CANMET covered Steve's travel costs ($4k) to Smoky River Coal and Quinsam, all other expenses covered by the mine operators (completed)
    2. Evaluation of Ground Conditions in Canadian Underground Coal Mines - Dr. Chris Mark (NIOSH) - all costs covered by NIOSH and mine operators (completed)
    3. Geotechnical Review of Canadian Underground Mining - GeoCoal Web Site - a compilation of the above papers by S. Forgeron and C. Mark and additional data collection/compilation - by graduate students / S. Zou - CANMET covered costs ($5k for travel & $20k for Data/Web Site compilation) (completed)
  7. Passive and Triggered Explosion Barriers in Underground Coal Mines - A literature review of recent research by S. Panawalage & S. Zou (DalTech) - CANMET covered costs ($5k) (completed)
  8. The Use of Stone Dust to Control Coal Dust Explosions
    1. The Use of Stone Dust to Control Coal Dust Explosions: A Review of International Practice by Peter Cain (Grande Cache Coal Co.) - work undertaken by D. Hindy (Mines Health & Safety Program, Alberta Human Resources and Employment ) and P. Cain - no direct cost to CANMET (completed)
    2. Fact Sheet on the Use of Stone Dust to Control Coal Dust Explosions in Underground Coal Mines - prepared by G. Bonnell (based on above report) (completed)
  9. Approved Explosives and Explosive Caps (Detonators) for Use in Underground Coal Mines (information page) by G. Corbett (completed)
  10. The Use of Fire Resistant Fluids in Underground Mining Equipment - literature search by A.S. Gosal and R. Hall (UBC) - CANMET funding $3k (completed)
  11. Explosion Proof Stoppings in U/G Coal Mines - literature review by D. Forrester, input from participants (completed)
  12. The Use of Refuge Stations in Underground Coal Mines - literature review by D. Forrester, input from participants (completed)
  13. A List of International Expertise in Health & Safety in Underground Coal Mines by D. Forrester / Participants (completed)
  14. Comparative Legislative Review on Underground Coal Mining Safety and Health - identify commonalities and principal differences between the underground coal mining regulations/code of the 4 Canadian jurisdictions (Nova Scotia, Alberta, British Columbia and Federal) where underground coal mining exists. (completed)
  15. Training, Qualifications and Competency - review of training, qualifications and competency requirements and resources available for the Canadian underground coal mining industry - draft final report prepared by D. Forrester and Fazal Hussain. (in progress)
  16. Coal Explosibility Testing - coal samples from Grande Cache Coal and Quinsam Coal will be tested at Dalhousie University to determine coal explosibility and inerting requirements. (in progess)

Note: For the above projects/papers undertaken by the stakeholders, technical information and advice was provided by CANMET and the stakeholders. Conversely, projects/papers led by CANMET personnel have had technical input and review from the UCMSRC stakeholders.

3.3.3 - Papers Presented at CIM AGM

Subsequent papers and presentations have been presented at CIM, as well as conferences in Turkey and China. A listing of these papers and presentations can be found under "Presentations".

3.4 - Time Frame

UCMSRC formally commenced with the signing of the MOU on September 24, 1998 for a nominal two year period. Progress is reviewed and a decision made as to whether to continue UCMSRC each subsequent year. Participants are asked to sign and return the Letter of Understanding (LOU).