Measurement Solutions Blog

Canaries were used to detect gas.

So far, there have been six deaths in the Australian mining industry this year, according to Safe Work Australia. That means six families' lives have been forever changed. 

Despite safety being a priority for mines across the country, the fact remains that it's a dangerous industry to be in. In an ABC interview last year, Queensland Resources Council's chief executive Michael Roche emphasised this need for continued improvement.

"While we're still killing people and people are having serious injuries, we know that we have to change what we're doing," he said.

Now, while technological advancements help make working below ground safer, it's always a good idea to understand just what led to today's practises. So, let's take a look at how miner safety has been tackled over the last century. 

Canaries were taken into mines in the past.Canaries were taken into mines in the past.

Why were canaries introduced to mining?

Initially, in the time before gas detection was an option, before a shift began a worker would be sent into the mine. EHS Today says the worker would proceed to head deeper into the mine with a long wick – lit on fire at its end – his head and shoulders protected with a wet blanket.

When the worker hit a small pocket of methane gas, the person would remain relatively safe while the wick ignited. This method, however, would backfire every now and again, when the brave soul hit a big gas-pocket, finding himself engulfed in flames. 

Scottish physiologist John Scott Haldane was the first to suggest using small animals for gas detection.

The Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) explains that Scottish physiologist John Scott Haldane was the first to suggest using small animals instead of humans to detect poisonous gases. After determining that vast numbers of miners were killed by CO exposure, Mr Haldane designed respirators, which he suggested mine rescue teams use in combination with safety lamps and canaries or white mice. 

Canaries, who are highly sensitive to the presence of gases, were carried in cages. When the animal displayed signs of agitation – or worse, fell silent – the miners knew they had to exit the mine as quickly as possible. 

The birds were used as the most effective gas detection method in countries across the globe, with England the last country to abolish using them in 1987. After canaries were phased out, electronic methane and CO monitors were introduced as more precise measuring tools. 

How did gas detection evolve from there?

Slowly, technology caught up, seeing the introduction of the first gas monitor to analyse the percentage of methane in the atmosphere. Catalytic diffusion sensors would pick up methane in the air and indicate an accurate reading of how much gas was present. However, the initial technology had the issue of relying on workers manually pushing a button on the monitor.

Nowadays, gas detectors can run for extended periods of time. Moreover, instead of purely measuring oxygen and methane content in the atmosphere, modern instruments can detect several gases at the same time. 

Safety needs to be a priority, especially in mines.Safety needs to be a priority, especially in mines.

What SRO Technology brings to the table

Mining safety involves more than gas detection though. There is a vast variety of equipment required to ensure workers remain safe. 

At SRO Technology, we specialise in providing your organisation with the tools to effectively and safely operate in the mining industry. As such, we cover everything from belt scale measures, belt demagnetisers, density gauges and pipe coils to bin level measurement solutions and tramp metal detectors. 

By choosing to use our expert services, you are guaranteed the best advice on everything related to measurement in your industry. Seeing as we're brand-agnostic, our team can objectively recommend the best solutions to you and your business.

So, don't hesitate, get in touch with us today.