The four common mistakes that lead to mine vehicle fires

Wormald National Product Manager – Vehicle Systems, Steve Oxley examines
the issue of vehicle fires on mine sites and their impact on the mining
industry.

Vehicle fires continue to be a significant and costly risk for the
mining industry. A report published by New South Wales Mine Safety reveals
mobile plant fires accounted for 76 per cent of mechanical plant fires in NSW
underground mines between 2008 and 2012 with a total of 128 mechanical plant fires
reported for the period. However, 44 per cent of these fires were caused by
human error and poor management.

Even simple fire safety oversights can have serious consequences when
managing a mine site’s mobile fleet, endangering the life and health of staff
while also damaging vehicles, resulting in costly downtime.

Common issues that may increase the risk of vehicle fire on mine sites
include failure to undertake routine and regular maintenance of the vehicle; operating
a vehicle beyond the manufacturer’s recommended time; taking a cursory approach
to assessing fire risks; and failure to install suitable vehicle fire
suppression systems.

The mining industry is heavily reliant on mobile plant, making it
imperative that mine site operators implement checks and balances to identify
and address these issues.

Undertaking routine and regular
maintenance of vehicles

Mine site trucks are operated for extended periods of time, sometimes
even up to 23 hours a day, leaving little time to inspect and maintain them. Often,
problems such as a burst hydraulic hose or faulty fittings in an engine
compartment may go undetected, but could lead to a fire. By introducing a
system of checks for downtime periods, mine operators can ensure vehicles are
adequately maintained while also increasing staff awareness of human errors
that may increase fire risk, such as leaving cleaning rags on hot surfaces.

Observing operating
specifications set out by OEMs

It’s important for mine site operators to respect and observe the specifications
set out by original equipment manufacturers. By ensuring fuel and oil lines and
hydraulics are installed and routed in accordance with the manufacturer’s
specifications, mine operators can prevent flammable fuels from coming into
contact with a hot surface in the event of a burst or leak.

Assessing fire risks carefully
so that hazards are not missed

Working in conjunction with a fire protection specialist and relevant
stakeholders, mine site managers need to undertake a thorough and documented
assessment of vehicle fire risks as part of a broader fire protection strategy.
A key objective of the exercise is to identify both common fire hazards and
less obvious ones including 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.

Installing suitable vehicle fire
suppression systems

Though the ability of vehicle fire suppression systems to reduce the
impact of fire in vehicles is well known, mine site operators are slow to
install them. Vehicle fire suppression systems are designed to suppress fires
occurring in high risk areas such as the engine and transmission compartments
and hydraulic areas of a vehicle.

These systems provide early detection and warning to the driver, allowing
them to safely evacuate while also suppressing the fire to help minimise damage
to the vehicle.

Wormald offers a range of proven and flexible
vehicle fire suppression systems to protect mobile plant, equipment and
vehicles across the mining industry. Using risk assessment processes that are
based on Australian Standard AS5062-2006, Wormald works with mine site operators
to determine the most suitable vehicle fire suppression system for their
requirements. 

A heated issue: Vehicle fire suppression systems

Flammable liquids, combustible materials, and extremely hot machinery combine to make the mine site a veritable powder keg.

It’s a simple fact that combustible dust and super-heated metal and motors don’t mix.

Unfortunately these two things meet face to face on a constant basis, creating the potential for a dangerous incident.

This is especially the case for mining vehicles and non-road mobile equipment on sites, and adding to this is the remote nature of many mine sites.

Protecting your workers and equipment is not just a financial and regulatory necessity, but also an ethical one.

The best way to fight fires on equipment is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

With this in mind Tyco Fire Protection Products has developed the ANSUL CHECKFIRE 210 electronic detection and actuation system.

According to Tyco Fire Protection it has been “designed for mining vehicles and non-road mobile equipment, and alerts operators about potential fire hazards and actuates the fire suppression system if a fire occurs, helping to protect vital assets such as personnel and property operating in extreme environments” such as mining.

CHECKFIRE 210 uses mining specific ANSUL fire suppression systems, including the ANSUL LVS vehicle fire suppression system which uses a wet chemical agent that provides not only fire suppression, but also a cooling effect on superheated vehicle surfaces while at the same time blanketing the fuel and cutting off oxygen to the fire, snuffing out the chance of reflash.

Its A-101 fire suppression system uses FORAY dry chemical agents for Class A,B, and C fires; while its A-101/LVS twin-agent fire suppression system combines both dry and wet agents.

“The CHECKFIRE 210 system will integrate seamlessly with current mining equipment, enabling operators to further strengthen their fire suppression systems with this detection and actuation technology,” Tyco Fire Protection’s director of pre-engineered systems, Mark Neumann, said.

He went on to say “the CHECKFIRE 210 system offers colour-coded, plug and play connectors for easier installation and an isolate feature that enables continuous detection and protection from actuation during maintenance”.

The fire protection system is also equipped with two independent detection circuits for different applications that allow the system to fit specific site hazards and machinery needs such as “single-, two-, and cross-zoned detection and discharge pressure feedback monitoring or alarm only”.

Dual-zone protection allows operators to set the system to monitor two independent zones, ensuring the system only activates when one zone detects a fire.

Cross-zone protection is designed for operators that need to monitor more than one zone at the same time, and causes actuation only when fire affects both the outlined zones.

“The features and enhanced interface are intuitive, which provides ease of use, which is important when a fire situation arises and time is of the essence,” Neumann said.

The system also features supervised plug and play circuits; automatic or manual actuation; an internal reserve power source; a compact display unit with two mounting options to fit machinery design; either linear detection for wider ranging hazard areas or spot thermal detection for targeting specific hazards in smaller areas; continuous system updates; and is FM approved and CE marked. 

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