Real-time dust monitoring arrives in Australia

The personal dust monitoring instrument is battery-operated and portable.

TSI Instruments has worked with the Queensland Government and Kenelec Instruments, an Australian distribution partner, to get an intrinsically-safe dust monitoring instrument off the ground. Australian Mining reports.

Respirable dust has been an issue that concerns not just the current workforce in the mining industry, but others who have dedicated their years to work at a mine site.

While some may perceive that change has been slow, TSI Instruments has released a real-time monitoring instrument that helps mining companies take better control of unseen respirable dust floating in the breathing zone. 

Australian Mining speaks with TSI Instruments global product manager Kevin Chase about its journey in bringing the solution to the industry.

TSI Instruments global product manager Kevin Chase.

How did TSI Instruments arrive at a real-time dust monitoring device that ticks every box?

We developed the AM520 three years ago, but it wasn’t intrinsically safe or suitable for volatile and explosive environments. We have walked down that path, but not gotten to the point where we could pass the rigorous standards of intrinsically-safe certifications.

In 2017, the Queensland Government was looking at challenges that the mining industry was facing, among which were black lung, silica, respirable dust. But they couldn’t find a dust monitoring device that could fill the market’s need. We were then invited to participate in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) initiative. Of course, we accepted the challenge and took a considerable amount of resources and insight to make it work out.

Over the course of a year and a half, we managed to receive CSA (the United States and Canada), IECEx, ATEX (both Europe) and Simtars (Australia) certifications. We not only meet the standards for intrinsic safety, but also the requirements for the Queensland SBIR initiative.

I have to say that Australia is on the cutting edge of what’s going on in the mining industry for underground mining. We’re very excited that we get to address the challenge facing its underground coal mines with this product.

How did TSI build its capacity to develop the monitoring device?

TSI was established in 1961. Over the decades we’ve become a leading global manufacturer that is well respected in dust monitoring, sound monitoring, air quality monitoring and respiratory fit testing, instrumentation, as well as specialty applications for monitoring of particles in a wide range of industries.

One of our key markets is in occupational health and safety (OH&S). That’s the area we’ve been focussing on for decades. We have been leading the market for a better part of about 15 to 20 years.

How is your company breaking industry norms?

Respirable dust monitoring has always been done with a pump and a filter. This takes some time to generate results and understand the impact of workers’ exposure. With real-time monitoring, the AM520i provides companies with the value of obtaining exposure information immediately.

With real-time, personal exposure instruments, respirable dust data can be collected and analysed on the same day so adjustments can be made to engineering controls, such as water or ventilation, workers can be warned on their exposure to respirable dust and operators can help them mitigate their dust exposure. There are personal exposure monitors that have been in the market for many years, but few have been approved for underground applications.

There’s not really been a solution that could fit the bill of being an affordable, lightweight, real-time monitoring instrument for the mining industry globally.

Tell me more about this product.

The TSI SidePak AM520i is designed to take a sample of the aerosol or dust that workers are inhaling in their breathing zone. It is capable of measuring respirable dust in total, or be calibrated to measure specific elements of the dust, such as coal or silica.

The instrument is worn on your belt and is designed to be as comfortable as it can be. It is very light, unobtrusive and runs up to 20 hours or a full work shift on a single charge, depending on the environment.

The device also logs its monitoring data point by point, indicating where the exposure has been and therefore helps in the subsequent data analysis. For example, it shows the management that dust exposure was at the highest level during a particular operation.

Work teams can then take immediate action to mitigate that exposure. They can make a change in the morning and see if it was effective in reducing respirable dust exposure by the afternoon.

We have achieved one of the highest levels of intrinsic safety certification for this type of instrument and that’s something that we’re very proud of.

This article also appears in the October edition of Australian Mining.

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