Mine Exploring Safety and
Common sense goes a long way in
mines. Being aware of your surroundings and behaving in a calm
manner is critical. Methodological exploration will allow you
to process what you see and also be in tune with the mine
environment. The following is a list of do's and don'ts for
mine exploring and includes a list of essential equipment.
- Don't drink or do drugs:
Drinking alcohol or taking drugs is a sure fire recipe for
disaster and should never be done inside a mine or before
entering a mine.
- Be in good condition:
Exploring mines is both physically and mentally demanding.
You must be in good condition and prepared for walking,
crawling, climbing and sliding.
- Use the buddy system:
Never explore alone and always make sure someone knows where you
are and who to call if you're overdue.
- Don't Touch:
Touching or grabbing support structures or timbers should always
be avoided. These wooden beams may look solid but many
have been in place for decades. In many cases, they may be
the only thing holding the back up. Also avoid picking at
the ribs or back. Removing one
rock can be all it takes to cause a collapse.
- Leave Explosives Alone:
Touching, moving, jostling or poking at explosives can result in
a detonation. Leave old explosives and blasting caps where
you found them. Like your mother always said, look but
- Watch where you're walking:
Always be on the lookout for winzes and watch out for false
floors. These are winzes covered with timbers (and often
dirt and rocks) that can give way when walked on. Listen
for a change in sound or a flexing of the floor. If you
discover you're on a false floor, get off or walk near the edges
if you must pass by.
- Location, Location, Location:
Keep track of where you are in the mine and which way is out.
Many mines are straightforward but some have confusing drifts
and stopes which can easily disorient even experienced explorers.
Fluorescent vinyl contractors tape is an excellent way to mark
your trail (as long as you collect it on your way out).
Avoid using spray paint to mark your path as this defaces the
mine and also releases chemicals into the air that are harmful
- Avoid crushed or collapsing
areas: Over time
the weight of overlying rock can cause mine sections to
collapse or be crushed down from their original height.
These areas are extremely unstable and should be avoided.
Always be aware of the nature of the air in the mine. Bad
air can incapacitate you before you even realize what's
on the lookout for dank musty smelling areas with no air flow
and drifts with large amounts of dust on the floor. If you
feel short of breath or any other adverse physical symptoms get
out of the area right away.
- Have the proper equipment:
Having the right gear is crucial to a safe mine exploring trip.
There are simply no shortcuts here. If you don't have the
proper equipment, don't go in the mine.
- Helmet: A proper
helmet should have a chin strap and anchors for securing a
headlamp. Climbing and caving helmets are best. Some
explorers use skateboard or kayak helmets but these can make
light attachment challenging. Hard hats work but can
easily fall off and be lost and are not suitable for vertical
- Headlamp: A good quality
headlamp is essential. LED based lights are preferred for
their low battery consumption and shockproof construction.
Quality lights are recommended over inexpensive
hardware store models. A backup headlamp is strongly
recommended although it does not have to be the same as the
primary light. Almost any decent headlamp will do as a
backup and several companies make very compact models
specifically for this purpose.
A small, bright and good quality handheld flashlight can be very
useful for closer examination of distant mine features.
Several discount retailers such as Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and
Costco sell bright LED flashlights for reasonable
- Spare batteries:
Spare batteries for all your flashlights are a must. Even
with a backup light things can go wrong and the last thing
anyone wants is to try and find their way out of a mine in total
- Proper clothing:
The correct clothing is essential for a comfortable and safe
mine exploring experience. Mines often assume the average
surface temperature. Most western
mines vary between 50° and 60° Fahrenheit. Parts of the
mine near the surface or with numerous openings may be much
colder or hotter depending on the current outside ambient
temperature. Comfortable but rugged clothing which offers
freedom of movement is ideal. Loose blue jeans, cargo pants
or military BDU "camo" pants are often employed.
T-shirts or sweatshirts work well and can be layered to deal
with changing conditions. Proper footwear is critical.
Solid boots with lug soles and excellent ankle support will
serve you well inside the mine and while hiking in and out.
A good pair of gloves completes the list.
- Food and water:
Dehydration can be a real problem in the dry and physically
demanding mine environment. Carry at least one liter of
water, more if you are able. A hydration style backpack is
the best method. Food is also very important. Lunch
and non-perishable energy bars work well for both planned meals
- First aid kit:
Injuries in a mine can have serious consequences due to the
difficulty in getting out and the remote locations typical of
most mines. Antiseptic, bandages and pain killer are a
must. Another good item to carry is a Mylar "Space"
blanket or bag. This can prevent an injured person from
going into shock.
- Emergency gear:
Besides a first aid kit, there are several things you can carry
to help in an emergency. Unexpired chemical glow sticks
are critical. A loud whistle, compass and signaling mirror
are also recommended. A Leatherman style multi-tool can be
very useful as well.
- Other gear: Besides
the essentials listed above, there are a number of other items
which are very useful for mine exploring. A gas detector
can save your life but requires a significant monetary
investment. Carbon monoxide and low oxygen are
probably the most important gases to keep track of in hard rock
mines. Knee and elbow pads will make your experience much
more comfortable. A camera (that you don't mind getting
dirty and possibly broken) is very nice to record your
adventure. A GPS receiver is handy for
navigating to and from a mine and also finding your way if you
exit the mine someplace other than where you entered. If
you are going to exploring mines with vertical or inclined
shafts, proper climbing gear is essential. This includes
harnesses, descenders, ascenders, proper rope, carabiners, daisy
chains, slings and webbing. Vertical exploring should only
be undertaken by those experienced with working on ropes in a
Return to Mine Safety