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Preventing ignitions and explosions

Fires and explosions in underground coal mines are preventable. It is vitally important that underground coal mine operators and miners follow proper procedures and well-known preventative measures to ensure that these catastrophic and tragic events do not happen. Proper examinations and maintenance can and do prevent explosions.

The fuel for a fire or an explosion can be the right mixture of flammable gas, a sufficient concentration of coal dust, or a combination of both. The heat to ignite the combustible mixture can come from sparks, electrical arcs, detonation of explosives, or even a stuck belt roller on a conveyor belt which causes friction that, in turn, generates heat. Oxygen sufficient to support combustion is generally present throughout active areas of the mine. Fires and explosions can be prevented by eliminating any one element of the fire triangle.

Float coal dust is a serious explosion hazard if it accumulates on top of the rock dust and the area is not inerted by the application of additional rock dust. The explosion hazards of float coal dust have been studied over many decades by the former U.S. Bureau of Mines and NIOSH. This video link from NIOSH shows the explosive power of just a small amount of float coal dust.

Additionally, the proper selection and maintenance of bits and water sprays on shearers and continuous miners are critically important in removing potential sources of ignition of flammable gas or coal dust, as shown in this video from NIOSH (formerly U.S. Bureau of Mines) on frictional ignitions.