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History of TestSafe

The increasing use of high productivity mechanised mining methods and their possible safety implications prompted the Department of Mines to establish the Londonderry Centre in 1964 as a means of assisting manufacturers and users to achieve high standards of safety in mining equipment.

The Centre was declared open officially in November 1968 and in addition to its test and research functions, the Centre was used as a repository for geological samples taken in conjunction with exploration or mining activities.

The first facilities to be installed enabled testing of flameproof electrical equipment. This was followed by a mechanical laboratory, which was used mainly for the destructive testing of wire ropes and the testing of conveyor belts. All of these facilities, and those that followed, were carefully planned, designed and commissioned by Centre and (then) Mines Department staff who at the same time developed the training, safety, instrumentation, accreditation and other essential supports for them.

From 1977 onwards, a major development programme has been in progress. This has not only increased the capabilities of the Centre to ensure the safety of mining equipment, but has considerably widened the scope of its functions to include training, research and testing facilities to meet the requirements of a wide range of industries.

Also in 1977, LOSC was created as a branch with Director (M. Lloyd) in charge, previously the Centre was a section of Geological survey. Existing functions were reorganised, directions re-defined and more structured planning for new facilities put in place.

A landmark in the expansion was the commissioning of an Explosion Gallery in 1980. The largest facility of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, this gallery was built well ahead of schedule in order to provide data to assist in the investigation of a major explosion that occurred in the Appin Colliery, July 1979.

Work carried out at that time was not only accurate in identifying the causes of the disaster but has provided invaluable guidelines in ensuring the prevention of recurrence. The explosion gallery was subsequently used for testing of mine water barriers and providing to visiting colliery personnel some very convincing demonstrations of the violence of even small gas explosions. As part of its development, methods were developed to control and control explosion pressures of the gallery thereby providing other opportunities for its use.

In November 1981, the administrative responsibility for all mining legislation was transferred from the Minister for Mineral Resources to the Minister for Industrial Relations, as part of that Ministry's increased commitment to workplace health and safety.

At the same time, administration of test and research facilities was transferred to the Department of Industrial Relations and the Centre was named the Londonderry Occupational Safety Centre. Administration of the Geological Services, however, remained the responsibility of the Department of Mineral Resources.

This time also saw the Centre become more involved in the testing of equipment for general industry as well as the coal mining area. This emphasis has progressed to where today equipment for general industry provides by far the major client base.

During 1982, considerable progress was made on the development of the site. An "On-load and Explosion-Protected Test Facility" was completed and was commissioned in April of that year. These facilities included a high current test supply for the testing of electrical switchgear and accessories, a dynamometer for loading of internal combustion and electric motors as well as a significantly upgraded flameproof test facility. The basic design of these facilities was such that they still compare favourably with current overseas ones.

By the end of the year, site services had been installed to enable continued expansion of the Centre for some years. These included electrical and water reticulation, fire fighting facilities, telecommunications, drainage, and computer facilities.

Two years later, in 1984, a full scale Fire Gallery was completed. Linked to high complex instrumentation and control apparatus, this enables control and measurement of the development of underground fires on a full scale to be undertaken. One significant result of the research work that used the gallery was the development of better modelling techniques to assist in the prediction, and therefore control, of mine fire propagation.

A new dimension was given to the training and consultative function of the Centre by the completion of a Central Resources Building early in 1985. Well equipped seminar rooms have extended Londonderry's training capacity and enable the effective dissemination of information resulting from research activities.

The building also provides an environment for detailed engineering work to be carried out as well as laboratories where bench testing of equipment may be carried out to support this engineering work. One of these laboratories is dedicated to the calibration and maintenance of test instrumentation, this being a vital prerequisite to the confidence in test results.

Published on 18th October 2005