Mitigating conveyor belt risks to ensure mine safety and efficiency

Conveyor belts play a crucial role in the mining industry, whether transporting ore from one processing point to another or facilitating material movement across vast sites.

This dependence carries risks that can lead to production downtime or property loss if not properly understood and managed.

Understanding conveyor belt risk

In a recent 10-year analysis, FM Global identified nearly 200 instances of property loss related to conveyor systems.

Fires emerged as the leading cause of these losses, followed by wind damage and mechanical breakdowns. Contrary to common belief, combustible materials aren’t the primary driver of these incidents. It’s the conveyor belts themselves that pose the greatest fire risk due to the heat feedback between them.

FM Global has accumulated a wealth of experience and expertise in property loss prevention – with a global team of approximately 1900 engineers focused on helping our clients identify risks and find solutions across a range of industries, including mining.

FM Global’s research, including collaborative efforts with other organisations, has delved into the fire resistance and burning characteristics of conveyor belts.

These studies aim to develop reliable fire tests and discern between materials with varying levels of fire resistance. The findings showed little significant difference in fire testing results when it came to conveyor materials, underlining the critical importance of operating standards, particularly concerning the materials used in conveyor belt construction.

Further information on these findings and resulting recommendations can be found in FM Global Property Loss Prevention Data Sheet 7-11 Conveyors.

FM Global is carrying out research to test fire resistance and burning characteristics of conveyor belts. Image: FM Global.

Five steps to mitigate these risks

It’s imperative to adopt proactive measures to effectively mitigate risks associated with conveyor belts in mining sites. FM Global’s industry knowledge, research and loss experience has informed a suite of recommendations tailored to different aspects and types of conveyor systems across various environments.

  1. Construction and location using non-combustible construction materials is advised. Additionally, ensuring adequate spacing to accommodate automatic sprinkler protection is an essential step in risk reduction.
  2. Controlling hot work and torch work hot work and torch work, particularly when paired with hot, dry weather conditions and poorly maintained environments, are common causes of conveyor belt fires. As conveyor belts are combustible, it’s important to work with caution and avoid potential ignition sources.
  3. Adequate fire protection FM Global recommends installing automatic sprinklers over all outdoor conveyors to quickly bring any fire under control and limit overall property damage and downtime. Sprinklers may not be needed if the conveyor belt is FM-approved, the material being conveyed is non-combustible, and any enclosure housing the conveyor is constructed of non-combustible materials. Additionally, if the conveyor is elevated 40-feet or less, sprinklers may not be needed provided the conveyor system is fully accessible for firefighting and a reliable means to deliver the water is present. Our data sheets provide specific guidance around the placement and installation of automatic sprinkler systems in various environments.
  4. Operation and maintenance implementing an inspection, testing, and maintenance program to verify the integrity of conveyor equipment, including bearings and drive systems, is essential. Regular thermographic scans and alignment interlocks help identify potential issues before they escalate. Regular inspections to prevent debris buildup around conveyors are also crucial for minimising fire risks. Good housekeeping practices significantly reduce the likelihood of ignition due to friction or overheating.
  5. Contingency planning developing documented equipment contingency plans and maintaining routine spares are critical for minimising downtime in the event of conveyor belt breakdowns.

Understanding and effectively managing the risks associated with conveyor belts is essential for mining operators.

FM Global’s proactive mitigation measures help enhance safety, protect assets, and prevent disruptions, helping operators focus on smoother day-to-day operations and maximise their sites’ efficiency and productivity year round.

This editorial was developed in partnership with FM Global advanced research scientist Stephanie Thomas. 

You can find more information on the ways FM Global supports operators in the mining sector on its website.

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