South Africa’s mining sector has made great strides in improving its safety standards, particularly with regard to one of its greatest underground risks – fire.
While the industry has invested in and shown its commitment to eradicating this life-threatening hazard, awareness regarding well designed, properly installed and technologically capable fire protection systems which best manage or prevent any fire risk is still lacking, AST’s business development manager Grant Wilkinson tells Laura Cornish.
The onset of a fire under any circumstance is potentially lethal, but underground the dangers and risks are significantly compounded. Limited escape routes is one reason. Underground mines are also confined in space with many sources for ignition and in many instances originate close to fuel with high fire loads that can spread quickly, such as conveyor belt rubber and electrical cable insulation.
Toxic gases released from fires are also deadly in sufficient concentration and smoke can quickly envelop a tunnel, reducing visibility. The potential business risks are also catastrophic, Wilkinson highlights.
Damage to equipment worth millions, in conjunction with operational shutdowns, can be devastating to the bottom line of any mining operation. “In reality, underground fires can be fatal. Because fire protection systems control the consequences of such outbreaks, they are essential in providing safe and productive working environments.” Fortunately, the mining sector’s safety awareness has increased substantially over the last 15 – 20 years, Wilkinson continues. This has been driven largely by the country’s governing Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), which has put stringent regulatory measures in place regarding safety standards, which includes fire protection.
Further to this the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) has instituted interim registration categories for persons competent to design fire protection systems while the Department of Labour has, through the respective South Africa Quality & Certification Committees (SAQCCs), been registering artisans to increase the number of authorised and qualified professionals. The need for insurance and risk assessors to mitigate potential safety hazards has also contributed significantly towards improvement in fire safety.
“There is however still room for improvement. While the implementation of fire systems is common practice today across the mines, in many instances proper evaluations are not done to ensure they can efficiently and effectively eradicate or….