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Mining equipment: suppressing the fire risks

As miners continue to work long-hours in consecutive shifts, today’s heavy mining equipment – for both underground and overground operations – is 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.

Fredrik Rosén, business manager, Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection, explores the fire risks associated with heavy equipment at mines, especially as vehicles and technologies evolve, and explains how mine operators can minimise downtime, while maximising safety.

What’s influencing fire risks?

Individual risk evaluations that analyse a mine’s operations as a whole and how vehicles function in a specific environment will determine specific risks. However, the bulk of heavy duty vehicles and equipment in mines are exposed to a number of basic fire dangers:

  1. Overheating

Mine vehicles inevitably accumulate dust and dirt because of the difficult operating conditions. Undoubtedly, keeping the engine compartment clean lowers dangers, but in some industries, like mining, where operations produce a lot of dust, maintaining cleanliness can be challenging. But if unchecked, this can raise the risk of overheating.

On its own, overheating doesn’t always indicate a fire risk. However, because of the lengthy operation of mining vehicles, prolonged vibration can increase the friction between the vehicle’s parts, leading to increased wear and tear, as well as an elevated danger of overheating.

For combustion engine vehicles, for instance, if this wear and strain results in loose cables, sparks or damage to the injection pipe leaks, along with overheating, it can cause dangerous electrical or spray fires that are violent and quickly spread.

  1. Electrification

Many mine operations are switching from traditional combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles in an effort to be more environmentally friendly (EVs). EVs are less likely to overheat, but the lithium-ion batteries that power them do pose special fire concerns. The following four elements are the main causes of battery fires:

  • Over/undercharging
  • Mechanical impacts, such as collisions or mechanical failures
  • Heat exposure
  • Protection faults, 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 characterised by a sharp rise in temperature and the subsequent risk of fire, the release of hazardous gases and potentially even huge explosions.

Traditional fire detection systems frequently won’t pick up on thermal runaway until temperatures begin to rise, at which point they’re often past the point of no return. This calls for a unique protection solution that detects the venting of toxic gases before temperature increases.

  1. Automation

Mining automation has reached an all-time high due to the COVID pandemic, where autonomous vehicles may be driven remotely to increase uptime and lower health concerns for mine personnel.

However, it can be more difficult to identify fire dangers when there are fewer people present or close by when mining vehicles are in operation. An automated detection and suppression system is essential in this scenario to improve response time, lower the risk of downtime and prevent vehicle damage.

How can mine operators reduce the risks?

Start by gaining an understanding of the unique risks associated with your mine. Continue to review your risk assessment map and your fire detection and suppression solutions as technology advances. Every vehicle, whether it is electric, diesel, automatic or manual, has specific risks that need to be effectively addressed. Suppressing the fire risk at your site requires considering your whole mining operation and creating a customised solution to efficiently address the relevant hazards, maximising safety and minimising downtime.

One Comment

  1. Great article, Such systems are very critical in the mining industry where fire risks need to me mitigated to ensure no loss of production time in case of fire outbreak in mining equipment.

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