Mantashe ast

Allowing untrained professionals to service and maintain fire protection systems will not only dent a mining company’s profit but it also puts its employees at great risk.

This is the stern warning from GRANT WILKINSON, Sales Director of fire engineering company, Alien Systems & Technologies (AST). GERARD PETER reports.

With more than 20 years’ experience in fire engineering, AST manufactures an end-to-end array of fire protection products and solutions that are designed to protect key risks against the threat of fire.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 5, 2020
Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here

The company supplies an extensive range of fire protection systems to various mines locally and throughout the continent. AST has experienced teams of engineers available for installations on site, commissioning and inspection.

Wilkinson has now raised concern about installers that are not accredited approaching mines to service and maintain AST products.

“Over the last year or so, we have heard of maintainers supporting to be trained by AST servicing and maintaining our systems. There have been instances where the equipment has been damaged to the point that they don’t function anymore. Mines need to be aware of this,” he explains.

While the company consults with mining companies about their fire protection needs, Wilkinson say that AST does not always deal with the end-user.

For example, a systems integrator will install equipment at a mine but after a few months, he no longer deals with the mine. According to regulation, all fire protection equipment requires a service to be done every three months by a competent person and this ensures that the AST warranty and Pyroshield Lifetime of Free Policy is still valid.

“Now, although our products are properly labelled, another company that markets itself as an installer and servicer and maintainer of fire protection equipment convinces mining companies that they are qualified to do it,” states Wilkinson.

“But often they don’t know how to do the routine checks or have the spare parts. As a result, they take shortcuts with the system, sometimes using pirate parts and ultimately damaging it and rendering it useless.

“In many instances, the client doesn’t know that so they think they have a system that is in working order but this is not the case. It’s a bit like taking your Rolls Royce to a backyard mechanic and expecting quality workmanship and genuine parts.”

Shortcuts can lead to calamity

Wilkinson adds that there have even been instances where products are so damaged that the customer now has to purchase new equipment. He cites examples of this being the case with AST’s Cirrus Pro range of aspirating fire detectors.

Read more about health and safety

These highly advanced detectors can detect invisible combustion particles (submicron carbon particles) that are formed even before smoke has formed. As such, Cirrus Pro is well suited for extreme mining conditions as it is impervious to false alarms caused by dust particles, humidity and temperature variations.

Another worrying development is the unauthorised refurbishment of AST equipment from old sites that is then ‘passed off’ to other mining operations.

“For example, an installer will take our Pyroshield fire system from one site, refurbish it and sell it as a system to another mining company without any involvement from AST,” explains Wilkinson. “It is not a genuine system anymore,” says Wilkinson.

This poses a major health and safety risk as Pyroshield is a ‘tailored to suit’ automatic engineered gaseous fire extinguishing system designed and engineered specifically for a particular room and is not like buying a can of beans off the shelf – it has cylinders that store gas under pressure and they also fall under the pressure equipment regulations of 2009.

Those systems have to come back to AST to go through the design process to ensure that that the cylinder is safe, and that the gas flows at the correct mass flow rate through a pipe system and comply with the relevant engineering standards such as SANS ISO 14520 and NFPA 2001.

Also, if it is not checked by AST, the system will fall outside of the Pyroshield independent third party approval certificates that it has from international certification association, Bureau Veritas.

Even some gas filling companies that do not have the correct tools, knowledge and parts try and refurbish AST systems and this has seen pirate parts used and poor workmanship that can have serious consequences, even death should a failure occur.

AST uses approved parts, trained persons that provides the most cost effective support possible ensuring compliance to its full system 3rd party independent full system approval for its Pyroshield Systems.

Expert advice and experience available to clients

Wilkinson is confident that mining companies do take fire protection seriously.

“On the whole, based on what I have seen, the intent is there by mining companies to ensure that fire protection systems are installed on their mines.

“However, at times mining companies are unsure about what system they need or how to maintain what they have and they get supplied with the incorrect information lending itself to a buyer beware scenario,” he adds.

Fortunately, AST is on hand to offer expert advice in order to ensure the right system is installed.

“We have broad engineering knowledge from which we derive the exact specifications that each mine requires such as the type of fire detection system needed to avoid false alarms in that particular mining environment.

“For example, at iron ore and coal mines, the environments are very dusty, thus a smoke detector cannot always

be installed since smoke and dust particles are very similar in size and the dust can create false alarms. A smoke detector would be more appropriate in a clean administration building.

“In addition, any mine that has our systems installed, such as Pyroshield, can contact AST directly on how to maintain and service this system using our Lifetime of Free Policy ensuring free hydrostatic pressure testing for the lifetime of a Pyroshield System,” states Wilkinson.

Wilkinson also cautions mining companies to employ only properly qualified persons to design their fire protection systems.

For example, when protecting a substation, it is imperative that the person designing the system is registered with ECSA at Pr Eng or Pr Tech Eng level in the category to undertake fire protection engineering as one of their competent skills.

It is also up to the company to ensure that all equipment installed meets the required standards.

To add further peace of mind, AST sends out documentation in line with the relevant engineering standards with the product it supplies. This includes important information on how each product can be maintained and serviced and by who.

What’s more, if a company is unsure about an installer’s accreditation, it can contact AST directly.

“All you need to do is give us the company details and we can check our database to see if that person’s training is up to date. If not, we can get in touch with the integrator in order to get them up to date with their training,” concludes Wilkinson.

Need to check if your installer is AST certified?
Call 011 949 1157 or email sales@astafrica.com