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Visual Communication Systems
Since it was really noisy in the mines, miners also had to rely on visual communication systems like signs. On this page, you will learn about the different ways of visual communication they used to overcome this challenge, like signs, lights, different colour systems, and the tally board.
Communication Through Signs

One of the oldest and maybe also most important means of communication in the underground mines were signs. Signs indicating directions, sources of potential danger, or forbidden actions were an essential part of the communication system. To simplify and accelerate the understanding of the signs’ meaning, mines established colour systems.

Understanding the colour system and signeage more generally were essential for the miners safety. Supervisors were responsible in ensuring that they and all their staff knew the meaning of each colour and the symbols on the signs (Coresafety, 2013, p.3-4).

There was another colour system for quick and easy visual communication: different helmet colours that indicated different positions or roles within the organisation. This way it was easy for workers to quickly identify whether someone was an electrician, a supervisor, or mine worker.

In the Oranje-Nassau mines, white helmets were worn by supervisors, blue helmets by electricians, red helmets by metalworkers, and yellow helmets were for the miners.

Explore the 3D model of the helmet: Turn it around, zoom in and click the different annotations to find out more.

3D model created by Theresa Geulen

To make sure you will remember – let’s play a quick game! Drag the helmets to the field of the corresponding profession.

Colliery checks and tokens

One of the non-technological but highly efficient visual communication systems were colliery check systems. These became common during the late nineteenth century and informed management as to who was working underground at any point in time. Additionally, the check system became vital when rescue services needed to know how many men were trapped underground in case of an emergency like roof falls or fire.

Early systems usually consisted of one single check or token per worker. At the beginning of a shift, the worker handed his numbered token to the lamp man who, in exchange, handed the worker a safety lamp with the corresponding number. At the end of a shift, the worker trades the safety lamp back for his token and takes it home until his next shift (Thompson, 2013).

Just like other communications systems, check systems also developed over time and by the late 1970s a three check system (safety check system) became common. In this system the initial lamp token was replenished by two additional tokens – one that was handed to the banksman before descending the shaft and one that the worker kept with him during the shift.

Tokens were typically coined with a number as well as the mining company’s name and existed in a variety of different shapes, sizes, colours, and materials (Thompson, 2013).

Communication Through Light / Lamps

Due to poor lighting conditions and loud machines, miners also communicated through their head lamps.

There was also a warning system using coloured lights: a red light warned miners of danger, indicating they should not enter without permission or to evacuate the area, a yellow light indicated caution and warned miners of a potential hazard or limited access (Coresafety, 2013, p.11).

Time to test your knowledge!

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