Coal and Allied (Rio Tinto Coal Australia ) have come up with a clever, yet simple solution for reducing injuries to maintenance staff.
The Grease Pressure Release Gun, or ‘Stored Energy Assassin’, has won the BOC National Award for Safety and Health Innovation for 2006.
The Coal and Allied innovation is a simple handheld tool which detects stored energy in lubrication equipment.
Developed following a serious injury on site, this innovation allows maintenance personnel to undertake lubrication tasks with safety.
Lubrication of equipment using grease requires the use of pressure to force the lubricant through a small aperture (grease nipple) and then through the component to enable all areas requiring lubrication to receive coverage.
When force is applied to a liquid, the liquid itself can act as a force. This force can easily be multiplied to create tremendous pressures. When grease cannot easily be purged from a lubrication chamber due to blocked ports or lines, dry grease or damage, new or tight seals, pressures may build up in the chamber to extremely high levels and present a hidden stored energy potential. In addition trapped air can be compressed and make the release more violent and dangerous.
Maintainers involved in system maintenance did not have an acceptable method to determine the potential for stored energy, and did not have a simple and effective method for reducing stored energy. This condition can remain undetected and has resulted in significant personal injury to people when dismantling components with undetected stored energy. This type of pressure can turn a pinhole leak of fluid into a “laser beam” style-cutting instrument (up to 10,000psi).
Such an incident occurred within our group of operations during 2004 and tragically resulted in the loss of an eye. The outcome could have been more severe.
A small group of maintainers and supervisors were tasked with coming up with an engineering solution to mitigate/eliminate the risk. A simple hand held tool was developed to allow trials to be conducted on stored energy detection and pressure release by:
> assigning a small team of people who do the work to analyse the problem
> identifying the risk impact to employees/contractors carrying out these activities by completing a comprehensive risk assessment
> using the Coal & Allied risk assessment process, and application of the hierarchy of controls to identify suitable solutions
> identifying practical solutions that were acceptable to employees, then conducting trials in consultation with a supplier (Custom Fluid Power) - refinement and certification was necessary
> communicating the improvements within Coal & Allied and internationally through the Rio Tinto group of companies (lessons learned)
> reviewing the results to ensure they met expectations and to identify further improvement to ensure there were no introduced hazards.
By following a structured risk based process, and involving employees and contractors in developing / trailing solutions Rio Tinto:
> eliminated the potential for unexpected release of stored energy on greasing systems and prevented
the potential for high-pressure fluid injection.
> provided a simple and effective calibration check on the tool prior to and during use
> provided a practical solution that is accepted by our employees and contractors
> produced a control measure that took into consideration the creation of additional hazards (refinement of tool mechanisms to reduce wear) and was modified to address the risks identified
> developed a solution that has huge potential for transfer across all industries and at home.
> shared our learning’s within Australia and overseas