Life is as the current spark on the miner’s wheel of flints; While it spinneth, there is light; stop it, all is darkness.
– Martin Farquhar Tupper
A Brief History of Mining and Safe Lighting
The mining industry has a very intimate relationship with safe lighting. Mining, especially traditional underground mining, is the one industry that depends critically on lighting both for safety and on its very existence. For as the miner descends into the earth, daylight quickly disappears and turns into pitch black. Without artificial light, he is surrounded by darkness.
The history of mining is intimately bound with the history of safe lighting technology because without safe lighting, (underground) mining is impossible. An excellent history is available in this paper from the CDC/NIOSH archives.
Open flames were used in the earliest days of mining dating back to the Greeks, but were known to cause explosions when flammable mine gases were present. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, the primary fuel, coal, was suddenly in high demand. Miners descended into the bowels of the planet to mine the dirty fuel but it came at great risk. Firedamp a flammable gas found in pockets in the coal and adjacent strata, constituted a serious mining safety problem. When miners punctured a pocket filled with large amounts of firedamp, the released gas’s interaction with nearby flames from the illumination torch would ignite an explosion. Thousands of miners were killed from firedamp accidents over the years. The CDC keeps records of U.S. coal mine accidents dating back to 1839, and shows the high cost of fueling our industrial civilization. Scientists and engineers around the globe dedicated resources to try to solve the problem. In 1815, English scientist Sir Humphrey Davy invented the Davy or “Safety” lamp, a light that was covered by a fine metal sieve to prevent the flame from mixing with the explosive gas.
Unfortunately, it did not prevent explosions and in fact, its poor design brought about many more fatal accidents. The problem for safe lighting led to the consideration of using incandescent electric lamps, invented in 1879 by Thomas Edison. The first such lamp had an efficiency of 1.4 lumens/watt. The United States Bureau of Mines (USBM) was established in 1910 to deal with the thousands of deaths caused by mining explosions. Edison’s work with John Ryan and George Deike, founders of the Mine Safety Appliances Company, developed the first USBM approved light – the Edison electric cap lamp in 1915, which came to be successfully used in the industry for many decades hence.
The cap lamp had been used in the same form until as recently as 1980s when Nickel-Cadmium batteries were introduced and lightened the battery weight by 50%. In 1975, a fluorescent cap lamp was introduced and although it provided superior light output and less degradation compared to an incandescent lamp was never widely adopted because it was too large, heavy, and expensive. However, machine mounted fluorescent lamps became widely accepted and are still in use today.
Fast forward to today and the NIOSH validates the importance of light emitting diode (LED) for the future of mine illumination. White LEDs achieve one order of magnitude higher output than incandescent bulbs, are robust because they do not have a glass envelope or filament that can break, and can provide useful light in excess of 50,000 hours of operation as compared to about 1000 to 3000 hours for an incandescent bulb. These are revolutionary changes for the mining industry.
Products of Interest
The Nemalux BL LED fixture is a durable and robust linear luminaire designed to replace vapour tight fluorescent lights in industrial, marine, commercial and temporary shelter applications. The BL is available in 20W and 40W outputs and can be surface-mounted, suspended or mounted with an optional angle adjustable mount. With a projected lifespan of 60,000 hours and up to 4,400-lumen output, the BL is IP66 rated for indoor and outdoor applications.
Nemalux designed the LS for temporary applications for harsh and hazardous locations. The LS series LED fixture is a multi-head lighting stringer built for customizable lengths and LED units. Nemalux recognized that in rugged use, the cord is one of the most common points of failure. Nemalux designed the LS to allow for cord replacement extending the service life of the product. The LS can meet or exceeds OSHA recommended lighting levels when modules are spaced out at 8’ or less for a 9’ mounting height.
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