“Overheating alone isn’t necessarily a sign of a potential fire. However, due to the long use periods of mining vehicles, the prolonged vibration this causes can increase the friction between different elements of the vehicle, increasing both wear and tear and furthering the risk of overheating.”
Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection.
As miners continue to work long hours in consecutive shifts, today’s heavy mining equipment – for both underground and overground operations – is often in operation 24/7 to meet tight work schedules.
Operating in a high-risk environment; with dust, prolonged vibration, and extended use, all elevating risk of overheating, these heavy-duty mining vehicles are inevitably prone to fire risk.
Holger Pfriem, Business Manager, of Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection, explores the fire risks associated with heavy equipment at mines, especially as vehicles and technologies evolve, and explains how mining executives can minimize downtime while maximizing safety.
What’s influencing fire risks?
When it comes to mine safety, mining executives have a critical responsibility to ensure appropriate measures are in place to mitigate risk and protect mine workers.
Specific risks are determined by individual risk assessments, which take into account a mine’s overall operations and the way a vehicle is used in a specific setting. However, the bulk of heavy-duty vehicles and equipment are at risk from several common fire hazards in mines:
Due to the harsh mining environment, dust and debris regularly accumulate in mining vehicles and machinery. Unquestionably, keeping the engine compartment clean reduces risks, but doing so can be difficult in some industries, like mining, where operations naturally generate a lot of dust. However, if left uncontrolled, this could increase the risk of overheating.
Overheating alone isn’t necessarily a sign of a potential fire. However, due to the long use periods of mining vehicles, the prolonged vibration this causes can increase the friction between different elements of the vehicle, increasing both wear and tear and furthering the risk of overheating.
When overheating occurs in conjunction with wear and tear issues, such as loose cables and sparks or damage to the injection pipe for diesel-powered engines, for instance, it can cause dangerous electrical or spray fires that spread violently and quickly.
Several mining executives are making strategic decisions to switch vehicle powering operations from traditional combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs) in an effort to reduce their environmental footprint.
Although EVs are less likely to overheat, they do bring a different kind of fire risk, due to their lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. There are four main factors that can cause li-ion battery fires:
- Heat exposure
- Mechanical impacts, such as collisions or mechanical failures
- Overcharging or undercharging
- Production flaws, where particles can enter battery cells.
Each of these has the potential to cause internal short circuits, which puts the battery at a high risk of thermal runaway which, is especially dangerous as the fire it can create is often extremely difficult to extinguish, a condition marked by a rapid increase in temperature and the associated risk of fire, the release of hazardous gases, and potentially even large explosions.
Until temperatures start to climb, traditional fire detection systems are usually unable to detect thermal runaways, by which time they have frequently passed the point of no return. As a result, there’s a need for a unique method of detection and suppression, which can detect the release of hazardous gases before temperatures rise.
The COVID pandemic has accelerated mining automation, and its adoption is now at an all-time high. This is increasing uptime and decreasing risk to worker health, as vehicles can be continuously, remotely operated from outside of the mine itself.
However, it can be more difficult to identify fire risks when there are fewer people present on-site or close to mining vehicles when they’re in use. This is making automated detection and suppression systems critical to speed up response times, lower the likelihood of downtime, and prevent vehicle damage.
How can mine executives reduce the risks?
Know the unique risks connected to your mine first. As technology advances, it’s crucial to carry out a risk analysis to determine the fire detection and suppression solutions required.
Whether a vehicle is automatic, manual, electric, or diesel, there are particular risks associated with each that must be carefully examined and accounted for in your site’s fire protection solution.
You should think about the entire mining process and build a customized solution to handle the pertinent dangers, maximize safety and save downtime.