By Steve Oxley, National Manager for Vehicle Fire Suppression Systems at Wormald.
Vehicle fires continue to be a significant and costly risk for the mining industry. According to a report published by New South Wales Mine Safety, mobile plant fires accounted for 76 per cent of mechanical plant fires in NSW underground mines between 2008 and 2012*. A total of 128 mechanical plant fires were reported for the period*.
Unfortunately, 44 per cent of those fires were caused by human error and poor management*. When it comes to managing a mine site’s mobile fleet, simple fire safety oversights can have serious consequences. A fire incident can endanger staff lives and health and render vehicles useless until repaired, resulting in costly down time.
As an industry that relies heavily on mobile plant, it is important that mine site operators implement checks and balances to identify and address common issues that may increase the risk of fire. These may include:
- Failing to undertake routine and regular maintenance. Mine site trucks can operate for up to 23 hours a day, leaving little time to inspect and maintain vehicles. This may mean a burst hydraulic hose or faulty fittings in an engine compartment go undetected, which can quickly cause a fire. Introducing a system of checks for downtime periods can help to ensure vehicles are adequately maintained. It can also raise staff awareness of human errors that may increase fire risk, such as leaving cleaning cloths on hot surfaces.
- Operating a vehicle beyond the manufacturer’s recommended time to do so. Mine site operators should always observe the specifications set out by original equipment manufacturers. This includes ensuring fuel and oil lines and hydraulics are installed and routed in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications so that, in the event of a burst or leak, flammable fuels are less likely to come into contact with a hot surface.
- Taking an irregular or cursory approach to assessing fire risks can increase the chance that hazards may be missed. As part of a broader fire protection strategy, mine site managers are advised to undertake a thorough and documented assessment of vehicle fire risks. Working in conjunction with a fire protection specialist and relevant stakeholders, mine site operators should aim to identify both common fire hazards and less obvious ones. These may include fuel, coolant or oil leaking onto hot exhaust manifolds or turbochargers; engine or turbo failure; tyre pyrolysis; or hot vehicle exhaust igniting exposed fuels. More discreet hazards may include areas where combustible or flammable gases may build up or human error.
- Failing to install suitable vehicle fire suppression systems. Vehicle fire suppression systems can reduce the impact of fire in vehicles, yet some mine site operators are slow to install these systems. Vehicle fire suppression systems are designed to suppress fires which occur in high risk areas, such as the engine and transmission compartments and hydraulic areas of a vehicle. By providing early detection and warning, the systems may allow the driver extra time to safely evacuate while also suppressing the fire to help minimise damage to the vehicle.
For more information on Wormald’s a range of proven and flexible vehicle fire suppression systems for protecting mobile plant, equipment and vehicles across the mining industry, visit www.wormald.com.au or call 133 166.
* Fires on mechanical plant at underground metalliferous mines (2008 – 2012): Incident Analysis, New South Wales Mine Safety, Department of Trade & Investment, November 2012