A common problem faced by underground mining operations around the world is airborne dust sourced from production and auxiliary processes. In most underground mining methods, air is generally directed through a limited number of drives and is thus more effective at carrying dust away from operational areas quickly. In a block caving operation, there are a number of ways to set up ventilation systems. In its simplest form the air is entering the extraction level through access drives and then split over the number of extraction drives—based on the pressure differences—without being regulated. This is the case at Northparkes Mines. Larger operations and panel caves most often utilise designated ventilation levels and ventilation raises with some form of regulation to ensure adequate airflow to all work areas.
Northparkes Mines utilise electric loaders as a productive means to transport ore to the run-of-mine (ROM) bin, which have the added advantage of allowing the mine to require less airflow through the extraction drives as dilution of exhaust gases is no longer required. Dust was controlled during the operational period of the previous two block caves by using water spray bars in each of the drawpoints, which were seen as the main source of dust. These drawpoint spray bars only wet the surface of muck piles and require a lot of water to achieve an effect on the overall air quality. The drawpoint sprays can be remotely operated from mine control, whenever a loader is sent to bog a particular drawpoint. A significant amount of airborne dust is also generated during loading as rilling of material occurs, with further dust being generated during tramming and dumping activities as only limited mixing of the water and ore occurs. The water sprays are ineffective at precipitating dust that has already become airborne.
When built, the currently operational E48 cave was fitted with drawpoint water sprays. As the cave is in a different orebody with higher silica content, the water sprays were not able to keep airborne dust and thus silica quantities under control efficiently. It was therefore necessary to find more sustainable solutions. The problem was further intensified by the concurrent load-haul-dump (LHD) processes across multiple extraction drives and tipping points, as well as secondary breaking, using non-explosive blasting and development activities occurring nearby.
This paper describes the practical approach taken at Northparkes Mines to reduce personal dust exposure on the E48 extraction level. As the extraction level is one of the main contributors to airborne dust at the mine, it is believed that much can be learnt by focusing improvement efforts initially on this part of the mining process and later applying the effective solutions in other parts of the mine.
Vejrazka, C and Wyllie, A, 2014. Reduction of airborne dust
on the E48 extraction level at Northparkes mines, in Proceedings 12th AusIMM
Underground Operators’ Conference 2014 , pp 227–232 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).