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. 

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