Mining equipment: suppressing the fire risks

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As mine workers continue to work long hours across consecutive shifts, heavy duty mining vehicles and machinery – for overground and underground operations – is often required to work 24/7 to meet tight schedules.

Operating in the high-risk mining environment, with dust, extended use and prolonged vibration all raising risk of equipment overheating, heavy duty mining vehicles are susceptible to increased fire risk.  

Fredrik Rosén, business manager, Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection, discusses the various fire risks associated with mining heavy vehicles, particularly as technology advances, and explains the steps mining operators can take to minimise downtime and risk, while maximising safety.

 What’s driving fire risks?

Individual site risks will depend on unique risk assessments, which should consider a mine’s overall operations, including how its vehicles and machinery operate in context. There are, however, some key factors that are influencing risk for heavy duty vehicles and machinery for the majority of mines.

  1. Overheating

Due to the harsh operating environment, mine vehicles and machinery are inevitably prone to dirt and dust build-up. Of course, maintaining a clean engine compartment does reduce risk for heavy duty equipment. However, in the mining industry, where operations regularly generate excess dust, it can be complicated to keep things clean. If not controlled, this can increase the equipment’s risk of overheating.

While overheating alone doesn’t necessarily lead to fire risk, when combined with other factors, it can increase overall risk of fire.

For example, as mining vehicles are often in operation for extended periods of time, the prolonged vibration as a result of engine operation can cause friction between vehicle components. Over time, this can increase wear and tear – while also increasing risk of overheating further.

This wear and tear has the potential to cause loose cables and sparks, or damage to vehicle components, for example, causing a leak to the injection pipe of combustion engine vehicles. When combined with overheating, this can lead to dangerous electrical or spray fires, which can spread rapidly.

  1. Electrification

As many mine operations drive to improve sustainability and reduce environmental footprints, the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in place of traditional combustion engine vehicles is on the rise.

Although naturally less prone to overheating, the lithium-ion batteries that power EVs do bring about different kinds of fire risks. There are four main factors that influence battery fire risks:

  • Over or undercharging
  • Mechanical influences – for example, crashes or mechanical failures
  • Excess heat exposure
  • Protection issues, where particles can enter battery cells.

Each of these factors can cause internal short circuits within the battery cells, putting the battery at high risk of thermal runaway – that is, where rapid temperature rises can quickly lead to fire, toxic gas emissions and potentially even large explosions.

EVs require a unique fire protection solution, which is able to detect toxic gas venting before temperatures increase. Traditional fire detection solutions will often only identify thermal runaway after temperatures have begun to rise – which can be irreversible.

  1. Automation

Exacerbated by the COVID 19 pandemic, automation in mining is at an all-time high, as driverless vehicles being operated remotely are helping to increase operational uptime and reduce health risks for mine workers.

However, driverless vehicles does mean there is often less personnel on site, or in the near proximity of mining vehicles, which can make it more complicated to detect fire risks. This is making automatic detection and suppression solutions key, as they can increase response time to mitigate risk and minimise downtime and vehicle damage.

How can mine operators reduce the risks?

Mine operators first need to understand the site’s individual risks. As technology onsite changes, it’s important to regularly revisit your risk assessment map, reassessing the suitability of your fire detection and suppression solutions.

All mining vehicles – whether diesel or electric, manual or automatic – bring different fire risks, which should be addressed effectively in your site’s prevention solution.

Suppressing mining fire risk is all about considering the site as a whole, developing a tailored solution that tackles the pertinent risks effectively – all to minimise downtime and maximise safety.

For more information, visit Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection.

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