Safety alert issued over fire suppression systems

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 29 November, 2022 - 12:45
Policy & legislation
New South Wales

The NSW Resources Regulator recently issued a safety alert after a bulldozer operator at an open-cut coal mine was unable to activate its fire suppression system in an emergency.

A Caterpillar D10T bulldozer was operating at an open-cut coal mine when a fire broke out in the engine bay.

The operator saw smoke and flames and tried to activate the fire suppression system, but the valve and panel cover was separated from the mounting bracket when trying to withdraw the safety pin.

Not knowing if the system could still be activated, the operator reversed a short distance, lowered the access ladder and pressed the red emergency button. With flames licking up through gaps around the deck plate, the operator exited the cabin via the left-hand door and jumped from the deck about 3 metres to the ground.

The operator was not injured and went to the rear of the machine to shut down the engine. The fire suppression system then activated automatically.

The alert made a number of recommendations and said that where mines have rotary-style fire suppression system actuators, mine operators should review or develop a site standard for fire suppression system actuator panel configuration. This standard should:

  • be developed in consultation with the fire system supplier and workforce
  • ensure that the removal of safety pins occurs without interference from other components
  • have anti-tamper tags that do not impede operation in an emergency
  • include the tensioning of fasteners for mounting the panel
  • be documented and made available for reference during inspection and maintenance activities for both mine and contract maintenance personnel.

Mine operators should also:

  • conduct an audit of the plant and check all relevant fire suppression system panels are compliant with the site standard
  • review the various types of fire suppression systems and methods of activation at their site and ensure all relevant personnel are trained in the operation of any fire suppression systems they may have the need to operate
  • review instructional decals or labels to ensure the information is appropriate and correct
  • ensure that change management processes identify and take the appropriate actions regarding differences between the new plant introduced to the site and the existing plant in use at the site
  • review second egress methods and regularly train workers in their location and use
  • report failures of safety-critical systems and components to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or their dealers to ensure OEMs can address emerging issues with their designs.