Cyclone Mangga reminds us why mines must be ready for anything

Even Kalgoorlie 600km inland was affected by Cyclone Mangga.

This year has highlighted the need to be prepared for the unexpected. While mining sites are in general very resilient operations, this goes for miners too. FM Global group manager, account engineering Michael Beaumont writes.

As if a pandemic and global unrest was not enough to drive the point home, out-of-season Cyclone Mangga came rolling through Western Australia in May. The storm struck WA on May 25, bringing with it wind gusts of up to 132 kilometres an hour, causing structural and roof damage as well as power cuts for thousands. All despite the cyclone season officially ending in April.

While the mining town of Kalgoorlie lost power, there does not appear to have been any major damage to mining sites as a result of the cyclone’s passage. Yet Mangga’s message remains clear: miners need to be ready for anything, at any time. As storms become more frequent and severe due to changes in climate, this is particularly important.

Too often we see a level of complacency among operators.

Even in areas regularly exposed to cyclones, many mistakenly believe they have weathered a severe cyclone without significant damage just because one came within 30 kilometres of their location. While a major storm was in the area, local weather data often indicates that weather suffered at that site was less severe. As you move away from the eye of the storm, the damaging effects decrease exponentially.

While a cyclone can often be seen coming for days, many severe weather events eventuate a lot faster. Many mining operators, particularly those who manage bulk materials, will find themselves subject to significant wind events all year around. Historically, we see losses resulting from these non-cyclonic wind events through damage to balance equipment such as stackers, reclaimers and ship loaders.

A year-round approach

To successfully minimise the chance of losses and business interruption in the event of any natural hazard, it’s critical that businesses look to how they can use engineering to support loss prevention. FM Global’s experience providing insurance and engineering support to a third of companies in the Fortune 1000 proves time and time again that loss can be prevented, and resilience built into operations through proactive engineering.

It’s also a must for businesses to develop a year-round emergency response plan that is site specific and identifies potential points of failure that could be critical to the business. Any plan must have full management and employee support.

Without employee buy in, it will not be effective. Ensure employees not only understand the plan itself, but the reasoning behind it, and are aware of the management’s support of the plan.

It is also critical that the plan is tested. The last thing you want to do is to wait until the moment you need to enact the plan to find out if it’s feasible and if everyone knows the role they have to play. This includes those who have the authority to activate or alter the plan. Practice makes perfect – and can significantly reduce the chance of losses.

The plan should also be considered a living document, updated regularly as new information comes to light, and reviewed at least once a year. Its performance should also be reviewed post cyclone to see if there are opportunities to improve.

Combatting complacency

FM Global advises businesses that they should look back long-term at what has happened in their area to get a better gauge of their risk when it comes to natural hazards. Flooding or localised rain events can create surface water and run-off damage.

Small earthquakes can also hit mines, such as the 4.3 magnitude earthquake which occurred in Orange in 2017.

Bushfires are another common hazard for certain mines, particularly those in south-east Australia, Tasmania, and southwest Western Australia where they are surrounded by dense bushland. Still, in most areas of Australia there can be some threat of bushfire exposure from low lying scrub that may expose key buildings or power lines feeding the site.

It’s also important to look beyond existing standards if they want to minimise financial losses and impact to operations. In the case of tropical cyclones, for example, standards and building codes merely represent the legal minimum that can be applied in structural design and do not always ensure the highest level of protection.

Standards also often focus on structural integrity, however damage can still occur to the occupancy where a building has not suffered catastrophic structural failure. Most of our loss history related to windstorms comes from damage to cladding, allowing water and moisture to cause peripheral damage to items inside.

The value of undertaking these kinds of wide-ranging preparations is clear. When natural hazards strike sites with thorough human element loss prevention programs (emergency response plans), we see a significant difference in outcomes.

Recent loss history shows that almost half of our losses can be directly attributed to a human error, either something done directly to cause the loss, a lack of planning for an event or an inadequate response following one.

While we may not be able to predict what else will strike this year or beyond – we do know that preparation is a powerful way to increase business resilience and protect your assets from anything, at any time.

This article also appears in the July issue of Australian Mining.

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