With miners working long hours in consecutive shifts, today’s heavy duty mining equipment – for underground and overground operations – is often working 24/7 to meet tight schedules.
In a high-risk environment, with prolonged vibration, dust and extended use all lifting risk of overheating, these vehicles and machinery are inevitably prone to increased fire risk.
Fredrik Rosén, business manager, Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection, discusses the fire risks associated with mining equipment, particularly as vehicles and technologies evolve, and explores how mine operators can minimise downtime and maximise safety.
What’s influencing fire risks?
Specific site risks will depend on individual risk assessments, which consider a mine’s overall processes and how the vehicles and machinery operate in a given environment. Although, there are some key risks that often affect mining operations using heavy duty vehicles.
With mine vehicles operating in a particularly harsh environment, they’re inevitably prone to dust and dirt build-up. Of course, keeping a clean engine compartment reduces fire risk, but as mining operations generate excess dust, it’s often easier said than done. However, if not controlled, this dust build-up can increase risk of overheating.
While overheating alone doesn’t necessarily equal fire risk, when combined with the vehicles’ extended use and prolonged vibration causing increased friction between vehicle compartments, increasing wear and tear, it can become a much bigger issue.
Prolonged wear and tear can cause, loose cables and sparks, or damage to the injection pipe for combustion engine vehicles, for example. If this combines with overheating, it can cause dangerous electrical or spray fires, which can spread quickly.
To improve sustainability, many mines are switching from traditional combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs). Although less prone to overheating, the lithium-ion batteries powering EVs bring about different fire risks.
Four main factors influence battery fire risk:
- Mechanical defects – caused by collisions or mechanical failures
- Excess heat exposure
- Protection issues – where particles are able to enter battery cells.
Each of these factors can cause internal short circuits, which increase the battery’s risk of thermal runaway – where rapid temperature increases can lead to fire, toxic gas emissions and potentially also large explosions.
Traditional fire detection solutions will typically only identify thermal runaway when temperatures begin to increase – when they’re often beyond the point of no return. Instead, EVs require a unique protection solution, which detects venting of toxic emissions, ahead of temperature rises.
Excelled by the COVID pandemic, automation in mines is at an all-time high – with driverless vehicles being operated remotely to increase uptime and lessen health risks for mine workers.
However, this does mean there are often less personnel on site or close to operating mine vehicles, which can make it more complicated to detect fire risks, particularly for underground mines. As a result, it’s critical for autonomous vehicles to be fitted with an automatic fire detection and suppression system to decrease downtime and mitigate risk of vehicle damage.
How can mine operators reduce the risks?
Safety starts with understanding your mine’s individual risks. As technology changes on site, continue to revisit and refresh your risks assessment map, reviewing how effective your fire detection and suppression solutions are.
Every vehicle – whether it’s electric or diesel, automatic or manual – brings its own fire risks, and your site’s prevention solution should address each of these risks effectively.
Suppressing your mine’s fire risks is all about considering your entire operation and constructing a tailored solution that addresses its pertinent risks effectively. This will enable you to maximise safety and minimise downtime.