Educating operators about Breathe-safe’s air quality management

Air filtration and pressurisation systems manufacturer Breathe-safe is urging mining companies to become better educated about how they can develop an effective respirable particulate mitigation ecosystem at their operations.

With mining equipment operating 24/7 in hot, dirty and dust laden environments, keeping the operator’s environment safe and healthy is a critical task for machinery designers and maintenance crews.

The exposure level to respirable mine dust that fixed or mobile plant machine operators are exposed to has re-emerged as a work health and safety (WHS) imperative in recent years due to the resurgence of black lung disease amongst Queensland coal workers.

Scientific research indicates that occupational exposure limits may be outdated and there are calls for more up-to-date respiratory health studies to determine exactly what would be a safe level of exposure to airborne mine dust.

However, mine-related health issues like black lung, otherwise known as coal worker pneumoconiosis, can be prevented by limiting exposure to respirable dusts with the right systems.

Air quality management consists of a five-step cycle:

  1. Setting a goal: zero harm
  2. Limit exposure: plan to control respirable mine dust
  3. Find a solution / find a provider: engineering control
  4. Implement engineering control: solution
  5. Evaluate: test and audit for the lifecycle of the machine.

Breathe-safe develops air filtration and air conditioning systems that are proven to protect against the unseen hazards that impact on the health and safety of equipment operators being part of a five-step cycle for the lifetime of the machine.

These systems particularly protect against the respirable dust or fibres that can potentially enter the mining equipment operator breathing zone at mine sites, preventing health concerns primarily centred on the lung or heart.

Breathe-safe manufactures and supplies intelligent, custom-designed pressurisation units that come standard with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters for fixed and mobile equipment.

Nick Johnstone, Breathe-safe product development director, said HEPA filters provided the highest level of defence against respirable dust.

“If mining companies start by focusing on installing systems with HEPA filters, for both fresh air and recirculation of air, then they are going to be better prepared to protect the operator,” Johnstone said.

“HEPA filters have proven to be far more effective than competing low efficiency filters at stopping particles in the lowest range from entering the operator breathe zone.

“A two-stage HEPA system, when professionally installed, will also reduce overall maintenance costs associated with HVAC climate control as it will remain dust free.”

While the Breathe-safe systems are equipped to provide an extremely effective solution for miners, Johnstone said these attributes had to be supported by workforces that were educated in the risks posed by respirable dust and how the systems limited their exposure.

Breathe-safe adds value to the development and installation of its system for miners by then working closely with them to build this education.

Johnstone and his team regularly travelled to mine sites to install, trial and then develop the systems, with the likes of BHP, Rio Tinto, Boral, Caterpillar and Komatsu engaging the company.

“We are spending more and more time at sites installing the systems and educating mining companies about how the systems are reliable and effective,” Johnstone said.

“Often we will talk to operators that have a cab with a pressuriser on it but they want to know why dust is still getting into the cab.

“It is usually because the cab does not have HEPA filters – they instead have engine grade filters that take out a lot of the dirt but not the small stuff that still goes straight through.

“So we educate them about the low micron dust that is getting through, as well as the benefits of having HEPA filters installed on their equipment to limit this.”

Breathe-safe’s systems have become respected in the Australian mining industry for their simplicity, and low installation and maintenance costs.

Johnstone said all of the research and development of Breathe-safe’s systems took place in Australia, enabling the company to provide these benefits for mining companies.

“Essentially, these systems have been designed for simplicity so once we install it the companies and operators don’t have to do anything. The operator just gets into the machine and the system works for them,” Johnstone said.

“The other side of the equation is cost – we are by far the cheapest on the market because we have designed, built, tooled, manufactured and installed the systems ourselves. There is not one middle man in the whole process.”

Breathe-safe has also added remote monitoring to the company’s products to expand on the service and education it can provide mining companies with regular updates on the data generated by the systems.

This article also appears in the December 2017 edition of Australian Mining.