Underground filmmaking.

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Guy Kelsey and Michael A. Charles at Allan mine.
L-R: Darren, Guy, Emil, and Michael reflecting after a hard day's work in the mine.

This carefully-lit photo was taken a kilometre underground in the potash mine at Allan, Saskatchewan, this past Friday. Guy and I are with Emil and Darren, safety trainers at Allan, whom we helped to film two new instructional videos for their online training system.

The training software we originally developed for PotashCorp’s Patience Lake mine is now being rolled out to Allan, and part of our job is to update their 15-year-old lockout procedures* instructional video and create a second video for sounding & scaling techniques.

So Guy and I spent the day tagging along while Emil, Darren, and their star Lonny locked and unlocked various electrical panels, tapped the roof with a scaling bar, and in between, drove us considerable distances through unlit subterranean tunnels. At one point in our travels we were directly underneath the village of Elstow, which is 7 km north of the entrance to the mine – and the tunnels extended well north from there. We must have done about 20 km of underground travelling by the end of the day.

With our province’s economy being powered in large part by the potash industry, it’s instructive to witness the process of actually scraping the stuff out of the ground. I’m happy to report that things seem to be running pretty smoothly down there.

* Lockout is the procedure by which electrical equipment is secured so workers can perform maintenance on it – essentially, each worker puts a lock on the electrical panel so it can’t be started accidentally.

Sounding & scaling are done to ensure that the roof and walls of a work area are solid. Sounding involves tapping the roof with a long aluminum bar, listening for hollow spots, and scaling means prying down loose bits of rock that might otherwise fall and injure someone.