Tata Steel gives mining a boost

Tata Steel gives mining a boost

The introduction of LHD at Jharia has greatly benefited the miners engaged in day-to-day mining activities.

Coal mining in Jharia started when Tata Group founder, the late J N Tata, kicked off operations back in 1910 and the Jharia division came to life. Jharia is the fifteenth largest town in the state of Jharkhand famous for its rich coal resources, used to make coke.

They are amongst the deepest coal mines in the country and the coal in the region is prone to spontaneous heating and methane gas emission which poses challenges to the mining operations. Mining operations results in the whole area to be covered with fine coal dust, causing epidemic respiratory suffering, chronic bronchitis, asthma and lung and skin diseases to those involved in the mining process. Despite the geographic and operational challenges, Tata Steel conducts mining activities in a scientific, environment friendly and sustainable manner to provide clean coal to its steel plant and ensure safety of its workforce.

Tata Steel's commitment to improve the quality of life of the communities engaged in mining operations encourages them to develop and introduce avant-garde technology; this not only ensures employee safety and conservation of natural resources but also improves the level of productivity.

The Jharia group of mines is a part of Raw Materials Division (RM) which consists of five underground mines and two coal beneficiation plants. The mining process in this division involves conventional drilling and blasting of coal. The blasted coal is loaded mechanically and transported to the beneficiation plant on chain and belt conveyors. Coal extraction leads to frequent extension and shifting of conveyor setup which involves large number of manpower. It also leads to the exhaustion of upper seams coal in the mines and the miners are forced to carry out mining operations in the lower seams. The lower seams have inferior quality of coal reserves with wider variation in ash percentage resulting into clean coal yield of poor quality.This method of mining is hazardous and poses a threat to the safety and health of the people employed in the activity.

The strategy at Tata Steel is driven by continuous efforts to stay alert and respond to initiatives that drive change. In order to reduce exposure of manpower without compromising on production and productivity level, Tata Steel adopted the Load Haul Dumper mechanism(LHD). LHD is a specialised loading machine manufactured for the underground mining industry. LHD scoops the blasted coal in its bucket, hauls it to chute, and dumps it in the chute which is then conveyed via chain conveyors on to the belt conveyor for upward transportation to wash plants.

The first LHD was set-up on 10h November 2011, at Jharia, in a timeframe of six- and-a- half months. LHD operations posed various difficulties in different collieries in the initial few months. However, they were solved by in-house techniques and with the help of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). An Annual Rate Contract was placed with OEM initially to meet the demand for LHD's spare parts.

Most of these problems were due to augmentation of new ventilation arrangements, evacuation circuit, stowing sufficiency, spare part availability and in general, deficiency in operators' skill, since this was a completely new system for the division. The teams at Jharia have been successful in stabilising the machines at Digwadih, Jamadoba and Pits 6 and 7 and have understood the benefits of using LHD.

The introduction of LHD at Jharia has greatly benefited the miners engaged in day-to-day mining activities. They are benefitted not only in terms of guaranteed protection from health hazards but also resulted in reduction of handling coal by the workers. Many engineering control measures have been adopted to reduce the noise levels of different heavy machinery.

Sheel Bhadra Karjee, a miner at Tata Steel's Digwadih colliery, talks of the impact of technology, like LHD, in mining activities; he mentions that mining in the lower seams would cause severe breathing problems for him and he developed a skin infection due to direct contact with unprocessed inferior quality coal. However, with the arrival of technology like LHD, today, a trained worker operates the machine and they are able to extract more coal as the machine is able to load coal quickly and safely.

Sheel recalls a study conducted at Digwadih mine in Jharia, to evaluate the impact of the Load Haul Dumper mechanism on mine productivity and employee exposure highlighted the following results:

Two side discharge loader machines along with its accessory equipment's were reduced without compromising on the health and safety of the miners; LHD was able to maintain high levels of productivity.

As a miner with basic formal education, Sheel, who has spent the better part of his life in the mines of Jharia, was able to list many advantages of LHD:

  • 80 per cent reduction in chain conveyor extension jobs per month.
  • Reducing the risk of exposure for employees in underground mines.
  • Prevents the probability of having accidents and tragic consequences when extracting coal.
  • Improvement in morale of workers by providing a safer working environment.

Although LHD has reduced the exposure of employees in underground mines, the team at Jharia looks to introduce blast-less mining technology where exposure of employees in underground mines is expected to further go down.

Tata Steel's practice of returning to society evokes trust among consumers, employees, shareholders and the community. The values-driven organisation focuses on employee and society's welfare and not just profit maximisation. The core values of integrity, responsibility and excellence at Tata Steel are highlighted by its efforts to improve the working conditions of the workforce in its mines at Jharia.

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