Saving lives during major underground mining incidents : becoming prepared for a collaborative response

Abstract: Background: Major incidents in underground mines are uncommon, but they can have severe consequences. In Sweden, the municipal rescue service and the regional emergency medical service (EMS) are dispatched to mining incidents, and together with the privately owned/state owned mineral and metalliferous mining company they perform a rescue operation. The major fire incident of 2013 in a Swedish underground mine led to the realization that there was a general lack of preparedness for managing these underground emergencies.Aim: The overall aim was to analyze the preparedness for response to major incidents in Swedish underground mines among personnel from mining companies, the rescue service, and emergency medical service.Methods: In Study I, questionnaires (n=741) assessing Swedish underground mining company personnel’s self-assessed preparedness for emergencies were analyzed by descriptive statistics, exploratory factor analysis, and multiple logistic regression. In Study II, individual interviews with EMS personnel (n=13) were analyzed with qualitative content analysis to identify the latent content. In Study III, six focus group interviews with personnel from mining companies (n=15), the rescue service (n=9), and EMS (n=4) were analyzed with qualitative content analysis and complemented with information from ten individual interviews with EMS personnel. In Study IV, documents (n=144) from collaboration meetings and full-scale exercises were analyzed deductively using the theory of expansive learning.Results: Most of the Swedish underground mining company personnel considered themselves prepared to act in case of major incidents, and about two thirds of the mining company personnel considered themselves moderately confident that they know how to take care of a seriously injured peer. Their self-perceived preparedness was associated with their familiarity with rescue procedures, their risk perception, and their experience of using self-protective and first aid equipment (Study I). Study II showed that EMS personnel trusted the rescue service and mining company personnel to perform the rescue operation and considered themselves as having a supportive role. In Study III, the mining company, rescue service, and EMS personnel considered that because of the unfamiliar underground mining environment, they have to prepare their organizations for major underground incidents in collaboration with each other. In Study IV, a tentative model was created for the development of an expansive learning process for the organizations’ exercise organizers during a set of collaboration meetings and full-scale exercises.Conclusion: The preparedness of the mining company, rescue service, and EMS personnel was analyzed through experiences from both real events and full-scale exercises. A holistic perspective of organizational preparedness for major incidents in underground mines has been generated. All organizations have their perspective of rescue operation response, but the shared objective is to save lives and care for the injured mining company personnel by performing an effective rescue operation in collaboration.