ME SAFE’s long hole plug eliminates the hazard of lost drill rods in up holes

ME SAFE won a Prospect Award in 2020 for the long hole plug (LHP).

Lost drill rods in up holes are a common problem in underground mining. Current industry solutions to address this hazard have safety implications, are time consuming and expensive, and interrupt mine operations. ME SAFE has an answer to this problem.

ME SAFE was born out of a potential accident stemming from lost drill rods in up holes.

The rods have the potential to fall out without warning and pose a serious safety threat to personnel and equipment working below.

Current industry practices to alleviate the hazard include grouting the hole to lock the rods in place or to plate over the hole with a rock bolt.

Both of these methods are time consuming and require additional resources, negatively impacting the mining operation.

In response, ME SAFE has developed the long hole plug (LHP) to safely secure lost drill rods in up holes, which eliminates the hazard without wasting valuable production time and capital.

“The LHP, when struck by falling drill rods, behaves similarly to an expansion shell anchor, transferring the axial forces from the falling drill rods horizontally into the rock mass,” ME SAFE director Sam Thomas says.

“It is installed using standard production drills, allowing work to safely continue with little interruption.”

The LHP is a much safer solution than grouting a hole as it removes employees from the line of fire around the bottom of the hole during grouting works.

If the heavy drill rods fall out without warning, it can result in catastrophic consequences.

Thomas says the other conventional method of plating over lost rods with a rock bolt is also ineffective, as it provides a false sense of security.

“There have been several incidents in the underground mining industry where this solution has failed, resulting in lost drill rods falling from a hole without warning,” he says.

“It is common for these holes to contain hundreds of kilograms of drill rods, which have the potential to fall out of the hole at any time without warning.

“The LHP removes this personnel exposure as the plug is inserted into the hole remotely with the production drill, thus removing personnel from the line of fire.”

The LHP is installed using the production drill rig to secure lost drill rods in up holes.

 

The idea to develop the product started when Thomas identified that lost drill rods in up holes were a common problem that had no effective solution.

Thomas and his business partner at ME SAFE, Gerry Noonan, then developed the LHP and presented their findings during the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) Underground Operators Conference in 2017, where their paper won the Best Conference Paper award.

“I worked in the underground mining industry for approximately eight years prior to starting ME SAFE with (Noonan). We recognised that lost drill rods in up holes were a common safety problem, and so developed the concept for the LHP,” Thomas says.

“We received a lot of interests for the product after presenting at the AusIMM, which drove us to start a commercial entity now known as ME SAFE.”

Since the LHP’s launch in 2017, the technology is now used as the standard solution to remove the hazard of lost drill rods in up holes in approximately 60 mines globally.

With a strong presence in Australia, ME SAFE is now setting its sights on expanding and strengthening its presence in North America.

The company also won the Schenck Process Excellence in Mine Safety, Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) title at the 2020 Australian Mining Prospect Awards for the LHP.

“It was a surprise to win the Australian Mining Prospect Awards, but we are very pleased, excited and grateful for it,” Thomas says.

“It’s great to be recognised when you’re doing something for the good of the industry and helping companies increase safety and productivity through the technology.”

ME SAFE pipped fellow finalists BHP, Austar Coal Mine and New Hope Group to win the Schenck Process Excellence in Mine Safety, OH&S category.

BHP was nominated for eliminating live work with Dash Maintainer Tools, Austar for its coal burst management system and New Hope for its Fit for Change program following the closure of the Jeebropilly mine.

AusIMM chief executive Stephen Durkin, a judge of the 2020 Prospect Awards, says ME SAFE addressed a specific and dangerous industry problem with a clever and cost-effective solution.

“This sort of creative problem solving is the backbone of our industry and its continued growth and improvement,” Durkin says.

“As well as improved safety outcomes, the significant cost savings provided by the solution show the clear benefits for the industry.”

Max Wijasuriya, the managing director for Australia at Schenck Process, sponsor of the Excellence in Mine Safety, OH&S category, says making sure all mine workers get home safely to their loved ones in the same state that they left in is a daily focus for the industry.

“Our people work in some of the harshest and most demanding environments that industry has to offer,” Wijasuriya says.

“Sponsoring the Excellence in Mine Safety category is our way to recognise and celebrate the hard work and leadership that gives the Australian mining industry its reputation of being a  leader in safety.”

This article also appears in the Jan-Feb issue of Safe to Work.