Flammable liquids, combustible materials, and extremely hot machinery combine to make the mine site a veritable powder keg.
The risk of fires on mines is ever present.
According to Garry Kwok, the national technical manager with fire protection specialist, Wormald “the hazardous and remote nature of mining puts mine sites at a high risk of fire".
However, a blaze does not have to be an inevitability.
By following a few simple steps mines can prepare themselves and de-risk their operations.
"Adequate fire protection is not only a financial and regulatory necessity, but an ethical one. Fire protection for the mining industry requires detailed assessments, plans and execution to meet the unique requirements of a site."
Wormald has put together these five tips for mining site supervisors and operations managers to help keep their mine sites fire safe:
Conduct a thorough risk assessment
A comprehensive assessment of fire hazards is the first step in developing a fire protection plan and mitigating the risk of fire fatalities and damage.
“Fire hazards differ for surface and underground mines, and vary according to a mine’s size, structure, materials, equipment and number of staff. Engaging a fire protection expert to conduct a detailed risk assessment can reduce the chance of hazards being overlooked by accident,” said Kwok.
While hazards vary from one site to another, common fire hazards can include mobile equipment and mining vehicles; welding and cutting operations; and storing flammable and combustible liquids, including lubricating oil, grease, and diesel and hydraulic fuel. The mined resources such as coal, coal dust and methane, can also compound the risk of fire.
Understand compliance and regulation requirements
A breach of fire safety regulation can incur significant costs and put staff at risk, so it is important for site supervisors to understand and comply with regulation requirements. Fire protection is covered by health and safety standards and legislation, which are governed by states and territories.
In the Northern Territory, Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria, mining is regulated by general work health and safety legislation. New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia have separate legislation to specifically regulate health and safety in the mining sector.
Select and install appropriate fire protection equipment
“Site managers must ensure appropriate fire protection equipment is installed and that regulatory and ethical health and safety requirements are complied with,” explained Kwok.
While requirements will vary from one mine to another, fire protection equipment may include fire sprinkler systems, water spray deluge systems, water mist systems, foam systems, vehicle fire suppression systems, breathing apparatus, gas detection units, thermal imaging cameras, fire suppression systems and portable fire equipment.
“Access is a critical consideration when installing fire protection equipment. If a fire breaks out, staff will have to act fast so it is important they can access equipment quickly and easily,” added Kwok.
Audit, inspect and maintain fire protection equipment
While appropriate fire protection equipment is vital, it is rendered useless if not in proper working order. Fire protection equipment should be regularly inspected and replaced or repaired as necessary. Other equipment, such as hoses, pipes and machinery, should also be cleaned regularly as build-up of dust and dirt can increase the risk of malfunction and fire.
“Site managers must keep on top of fire protection and ensure all fire protection equipment and systems are inspected and serviced regularly by a qualified fire protection specialist,” said Kwok.
Train your staff
Training staff is an essential step in protecting people and property against fire. “Site managers should ask themselves, if a fire were to break out in the next 10 minutes, would staff be ready to respond correctly, quickly and confidently? An appropriate response to fire can save lives and reduce damage,” said Kwok.
As with the rest of a fire protection plan, fire safety training should be tailored to the unique requirements of a mine site and its staff. It is recommended that every mine site engages staff confined space entry, breathing apparatus training, fire extinguisher training and lay flat hose training.