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Real-time, personal monitoring of dust at Queensland underground coal mines

Nominated by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines

Challenge statement

The challenge is to provide an affordable personal dust monitoring device that will provide real-time data to a worker regarding their exposure levels to respirable dust, consistent with Australian Standards.

Applications to solve this challenge closed at 2pm (AEST) 26 September 2017.


If you are interested in collaborating to address this challenge, you may wish to review or register for inclusion on the list of organisations seeking partners.

Challenge imperative

The Queensland Government is committed to ensuring the health and safety of mine workers. The ability to identify workers at risk of excessive respirable dust exposure and implement controls, is directly related to Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) Strategic Plan for 2016-2020 to reduce safety and health risks in Queensland’s minerals, energy, and explosives industries.

Cutting, transportation, and processing of coal and mineral resources are all activities that generate dust within mining operations. While dust is considered a general hazard in mining and is subject to a range of controls to manage risk, it is the respirable size fraction (generally comprising particle size <16µm, small enough to enter the lungs), which poses a recognised chronic health hazard for mine workers.

Mine dust lung diseases, including Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis (CWP), are caused by long term exposure to high concentrations of respirable dust.  In May 2015, a coal mine worker was diagnosed with CWP and as at 27 April 2017 the number of confirmed cases has risen to 21.

On 1 January 2017, reforms to coal mining safety and health legislation became law providing better protection for workers. Reforms include new legislation on dust control, monitoring and reporting, and a requirement for mine operators to submit monitoring results to DNRM.

The use of personal dust monitoring devices is an effective way of informing coal operators and mine workers of their exposure to respirable dust. Respirable dust monitoring and control are essential risk management measures understanding that:

  • dust cannot be eliminated
  • the use of Personal Protective Equipment is considered the lowest standard of management due to failure to use, the incidence of equipment failure or inappropriate use.

However, there is no real-time dust monitoring system on the market at present that meets the requirements of respirable dust monitoring for the Queensland coal mining industry. There are several compelling reasons to develop a suitable real-time measurement device, including:

  • real time measurements help protect workers’ health by providing an instantaneous reading for the mine workers to better ensure their exposure does not exceed regulated limits. It also enables workers to see how their work technique affects their exposure
  • aggregation of individual mine worker monitoring results can be used to develop exposure trends for workers in similar exposure groups, i.e. locations in the mine where similar tasks and processes are conducted. This information can highlight areas where dust control improvements are required
  • real-time measurements enable workers to promptly remove themselves from areas of the mine with excessive dust levels.  The results from current mass monitoring devices are not known for two or more weeks after exposure, due to sample processing and laboratory analysis. Having measurements in real time also facilitates more rapid changes to mining operation practices and dust controls, to reduce respirable dust.
By solving this challenge, DNRM (as the regulator of dust monitoring and dust control standards), can assist the mining industry to access a device that fully meets Australian Standards (as enforced in Queensland), to protect the coal mine workers.  This would ultimately result in improved health for coal mine workers. It would also provide broader social impacts of community health, and relieving strain on the health system, and also enable economic impacts not only from a health system perspective, but also in relation to employment and worker’s compensation benefits.

Challenge context

The stakeholders involved

The challenge owner is the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM).

DNRM are responsible for regulating mining, land, and water resources within Queensland.  This includes administering safety and health legislation at Queensland mine sites.

The end user for the device will be privately owned mine operators, public and private sector organisations, contracting companies, and mine workers.

The current situation

Current techniques of respirable dust monitoring is based on gravimetrical testing but do not provide feedback of exposure until well after the exposure has occurred, typically weeks. Other devices available on the market that do provide real-time measurement either do not meet Australian Standards for intrinsic safety, the minimum measurement accuracy, or are cost prohibitive at present. DNRM authorise the use of new technologies as compared against the specific standards.

Currently, respirable dust is measured using either:

  1. gravimetric sampling to meet the requirements of Australian Standard AS2985:2009. The results from this sampling commonly take two or more weeks for sample processing
  2. real-time sampling using photometric (light scattering) equipment. Multiple types of these units are available. These units require calibration and calculation of a correction factor to accurately measure dust at any given site. This calibration needs to be checked and recalculated at regular intervals at the site.  Further, no photometric sampling devices are currently certified to meet the explosion protection standards required for use in Queensland underground coal mines
  3. real-time sampling using gravimetric measurement. Other devices available on the market that provide real-time measurement capability either do not meet Australian standards for intrinsic safety in underground coal mines, the minimum measurement accuracy, or are cost prohibitive at present

There are currently no real-time systems that distinguish between different types of respirable dust (i.e. coal particles vs. diesel particles, for example), that are commercially available. Safe Work Australia provides a standard for safe exposure levels of different types of respirable dust.  However, while Australian Standards depict a required gravimetric method for measuring total respirable dust, there is no way of reconciling this against Safe Work Australia’s Standard for exposure to different types of respirable dust.

Solution design parameters

The successful application will provide a personal monitoring technology solution that will alert an individual worker if they approach, or exceed the recommended respirable dust exposure limits.  The device will enable automatic collection of individual data for aggregation to allow end of shift analysis and corrective actions, as well as enabling a cumulative analysis of larger groups to identify physical areas and broader operational changes that require improvement in dust control.  The device will need to be intrinsically safe and capable of meeting Australian Standards to enable its application for use in underground coal mines in Queensland.

Technical considerations

The successful solution will need to demonstrate an ability to address the following technical requirements:

  • be tamperproof and robust to endure the underground coal mining environment and sufficiently resistive to heat, humidity, dust and moisture ingress.
  • enable personal monitoring (e.g. wearable or movable) and not introduce a new hazard into the worker’s environment (e.g. ergonomic risk, safety risk, risk of distracting the worker from the task at hand).
  • be cost effective.
  • provide “real time” outputs including:
    • an alarm to indicate when individual exposure has exceeded safety limits at any point in a shift.
    • real time (or near real time) data transmission/upload capability for end of shift analysis.
    • cumulative data log for individual device and whole-of-mine users.
  • provide information in a format compatible with regulatory reporting requirements.
  • be useable as a fixed-point sensor to monitor general exposure at certain points in an operation.

Design benefits

The successful solution will need to demonstrate an ability to deliver the following key benefits:                     

The solution must:

  • measure and provide results to an individual mine worker about their breathing zone exposure to respirable dust in real time.
  • accurately measure respirable dust concentration, with units expressed as milligrams per cubic metre (mg/m3).
  • achieve certification by the end of development as intrinsically safe to be operated in underground coal mines in Queensland as to AS/NZS 60079.11 Explosive Atmospheres – Equipment protection by intrinsic safety ‘i’; and AS/NZS 60079.0 – Explosive atmospheres – Equipment - General Requirements.
    (NB: Queensland hazardous area standards are based on Australian (ANZEx) and IECEx international standards.)
  • be capable of reaching feasibility stage within 6 months for measurement of respirable dust (certification will be assessed separately).

Potential benefits that a solution may deliver (but is not essential) include:

  • capability for distinguishing respirable coal dust from other respirable dust fractions (e.g. diesel particulate matter, silica).

Commercial opportunities

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program aims to provide commercial opportunities for applicants, while at the same time, solving Queensland Government challenges via an innovative procurement process.

Successful applicants will receive funding to research, develop and test their idea. At the end of the process, applicants have the potential to secure a contract with the Queensland Government. Additionally, intellectual property developed within the SBIR program is retained by the party who developed it, allowing applicants the potential to access broader commercial opportunities.

In addition to immediate opportunities for selected applicants, any device may have the potential for deployment to mines in Australian and International jurisdictions, as well as other types of mines with respirable dust challenges.

Additional information

The following additional information has been provided:

How will applications be assessed?

Applications to this challenge will be assessed by an evaluation panel assembled by DNRM in accordance with all relevant Queensland Government Procurement policies.

Applications will be assessed against the following criteria:

  1. Addresses the challenge (Weighting: 30%)
    1. How well does the proposed solution address the design parameters (technical considerations and design benefits) identified in the challenge statement?
    2. How innovative is the proposed solution – new to market, or novel application of existing technology?
    3. How feasible is the proposed solution when scaled to address the challenge statement?
  2. Capability to deliver (Weighting: 25%)
    1. Does the applicant have the experience, skills and capacity to deliver the solution?
    2. Does the applicant have access to any necessary intellectual property?
    3. How viable is the development and supply of the proposed solution within the timeframes of the SBIR?
  3. Commercial potential (Weighting: 15%)
    1. How viable is the identified route to commercialise the proposed solution?
    2. Does the solution appear financially and commercially viable?
  4. Fair market value (Weighting: 15%)
    1. To what extent do the proposed development costs represent fair market value?
  5. Broader benefits for Queensland (Weighting: 15%)
    1. To what extent does the proposed solution offer broader benefits for Queensland?
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia (CC BY-ND 3.0)
Last updated
25 September, 2017

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