When a large West African gold mine was struck by a series of thermal events over the space of a year, Fire Investigation & Safety Compliance Australia (FISCA) took a dive into the root cause of the issue. Australian Mining explains.
Over the last year, a large gold mine in West Africa lost some of its most valuable mobile assets to fires that occurred during normal mining activities.
In a harsh working environment like the Sahara, things don’t always go according to plan. And even the most robust equipment such as fire suppression systems are susceptible to accelerated deterioration.
FISCA was engaged to conduct an exhaustive fire safety audit of the 200-and-over mobile fleet to identify potential triggers in an effort to limit future thermal events. Additionally, a thorough review of response and emergency procedures was conducted.
Company director and principal investigator Morgan Cook says, “There are numerous reasons for fires starting on mobile plant and machinery during normal mining operations, such as:
• Excessive temperatures when the machinery is working and the in ability to have these machines cool off,
• Spillage of flammable substances such as diesel and oils on the engine or areas on the machine that generate excessive heat resulting in spontaneous combustion,
• Lack of on-board fire suppression systems to extinguish fires,
• Excessive friction on brakes and tyres,
• Early warning detection systems that are either inadequate or don’t work the way they should, and
• Poor maintenance including tyre degradation and build-up of dirt and grime over the engine and cooling system.”
Fire safety audit
The fire safety audit was conducted in accordance with Australian Standard 4655-2005 (Fire Safety Audits) and Mining Design Guideline 1032 (guideline for the prevention, early detection and suppression of fires in coal mines).
Despite the operation being a gold mine, the principles laid out in MDG 1032 were also applied.
The audit dealt with the largest part of the mobile plant possible to determine why, with suppression systems in place, the machines were still being lost to fire.
The fire safety audit identified several significant issues that impacted critical fire safety measures on the mobile plant and equipment.
These include the deterioration of suppressant delivery hoses on the on-board fire suppression systems, and the inadequate placement and damage of linear detection wires, manual activation devices and applicator nozzles – all of which resulted in an ineffective system.
Recommendations included a major overhaul of the fire suppression systems, including an increase in the use of wet chemical suppression agents in place of dry powder.
“Further observations revealed other issues that contributed to the damage caused by the thermal events,” says Cook.
“The emergency response procedures that were currently in place were not sufficient resulting in no professional fire-fighting in place for over 45 minutes during one particular thermal event, with water carts having to do most of the initial extinguishment.
“This was caused by inefficient procedural requirements and a lack of understanding of the need for a fast response in the event of a mine fire by the mine’s security staff.”
Subsequently, further recommendations included a redesign of the emergency response procedures, with the inclusion of a mobile response point. This was designed to ensure that firefighting personnel onsite have unhindered access to the mine to deliver the safest possible response in the shortest amount of time. It would minimise life risks, reduce downtime caused by a loss of fleet and infrastructure, and get mining operations back to maximum output.
FISCA also took the opportunity to observe the installed fire safety measures throughout the site. Cook says, “The harsh conditions of the mine site mean that simple items such as hose reels and fire extinguishers have suffered.
“Somewhat paradoxically, practical issues such as access to external hydrants was compromised, not through neglect but in a bid to protect the equipment, with a prime example being a hydrant surrounded by a large haul truck tyre making the hydrant difficult to use, hindering timely access and operation.”
Through these observations, FISCA was able to highlight a number of fire safety-related areas that the mine could improve upon, and thus ensure the safety of its personnel, fleet and infrastructure in the future.
Being in the business of providing essential information and recommendations in regard to all aspects of fire safety, rather than in the business of selling fire safety products, Cook says “FISCA has been providing clients with world-class forensic fire investigation and fire safety compliance services since 2011.
“With a collective fire industry experience spanning more than 50 years, FISCA has helped to increase the safety of some of the biggest mining operations on the planet.”
This article also appears in the December edition of Australian Mining.