Q&A: The Threat of Fires During Refuelling

The Austmine Mine Safety E-Book explores the subject of mine safety via 6 articles, with topics spanning from asset lifecycle, to maintenance process, to wearable personnel safety technologies. The E-Book includes an interview with Banlaw Maintenance Manager Sam Barnes on the threat of fires during refuelling.

Below follows the interview between Austmine and Sam. We’ve also included a download button at the bottom of this page where you can grab a copy of the complete Mine Safety E-Book.

Sam Barnes discusses process and procedures to avoid fuel fires

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Q1 - What are the biggest risks for miners to consider for fuel and lubricant management?

At Banlaw, my teams are the ones on site every day; performing audits, doing installs, and delivering machine and facility maintenance. We’re trying to eliminate leaks and spills, potential sources of harm to employees, and machine damage or break-downs. From a hydrocarbons perspective, the focus is really on how to fill, dispense, and maintain equipment as efficiently as possible, whilst doing so safely.

To answer your question, the scariest threat is that of fire. Mines have large amounts of stored diesel in their fuel farms, whilst heavy mining equipment can carry tens of thousands of litres onboard.

Poorly maintained refuelling equipment or operator error can very quickly lead to hot engine components igniting fuel, and in seconds you can have a tragedy beyond the cost of a machine.

Q2 - Why do fuel fires occur on mining machines, and why is it still such a risk?

It boils down to inadequate refuelling equipment maintenance, staff knowledge and process adherence, and whether or not appropriate tank overfill protection equipment has been fitted. Equipment fires occur because hot engine components, like turbos, come into contact with fuel, either directly from a fuelling hose, or because the fuel has escaped from the vehicle tank. Fuel from the hose can spray out when splash fill rather than quick connect (dry break) fittings are being used, and when the flow rate is simply too high for filling with this method. Splash filling directly into the tank filler neck means a person must be paying attention to cease refuelling when the tank is full, and to keep the hose under control.

Fuel can escape directly from the tank on mining equipment because the tank has split due to overpressurisation, or vacuum, or both. Fuel can also be sprayed from a vent on top of the tank, because that vent is not sealing properly, or because the fast fill system doesn’t cease filling at the correct time.

A leading cause of tank rupture is actually behavioural. Refuelling systems are either held or tied into the ‘on’ position because machine tanks on site are not filling completely. This situation is easily resolved by installing receivers with the correct spring setting and fitting an effective overfill protection system. There is no reason to override refuelling systems. Always fix the root cause of the problem instead.

Q&A: The Threat of Fires During Refuelling »

Banlaw FillSafeTM Power – Fire Safe Installation

Q3 - How does tank overfill protection equipment work?

Banlaw FillSafeTM overfill protection systems work by putting a level sensor in the top of a fuel tank, and a control valve in the fill line. The control valve closes when fuel inside the tank reaches the correct safe fill level, and this forces the refuelling process to end before pressure builds up in the tank. Banlaw OFP solutions also retain the auto-shutoff functionality of the traditional quick fill nozzle/receiver/vent setup. That means with FillSafe, you actually have two layers of protection helping to avoid equipment fires and other types of damage. We also manufacture a range of venting products to ensure that air can get out of the tank fast enough to avoid pressurising the tank during high speed refuelling, and that incoming air is filtered quickly enough to avoid a vacuum too. That’s especially important on service trucks where diesel is being dispensed at hundreds of litres a minute.

Q4 - Does this apply to excavators as well?

Large mining excavators are a special case. They have over 10,000 litres of fuel onboard, and if that fuel escapes during a fire, then the result is likely to be catastrophic.

Furthermore, excavators are critical to production, so downtime for refuelling needs to be minimised. For large mining excavators we use FillSafe Power, our electronic overfill protection solution. It’s deployed with a float valve to sense when the tank is full, and a fire-safe actuated valve to ensure diesel can’t escape the tank, even in the event of a fire. The Controller uses LEDs to indicate to the operator exactly when the tank is full, and the system is totally unrestricted by flow rate. FillSafe Power is commonly installed to support refuelling speeds on excavators of up to 1,000lpm, after appropriate due diligence of course.

We believe that every excavator should have FillSafe Power installed, regardless of fill speed, as an additional layer of fire safety, and to avoid unscheduled maintenance due to tank damage. They’re just too important to take the risk.

Q&A: The Threat of Fires During Refuelling »

Hitachi EX8000 Excavator with FillSafe Power installed for increased fire safety, along with other reasons such as fuelling efficiency and maintenance cost-avoidance

Q5 - What about haul trucks, wheel loaders, dozers and the like?

The reasons for fuel fires are usually the same on all the diesel-powered machines and stationary equipment on mine sites. This includes losing control of fuel hoses, not checking and maintaining fuelling equipment to OEM specifications, and using equipment in a manner it was not designed for.

For most mining vehicles we recommend a mechanical tank overfill protection solution. The benefits are that it’s extremely cost efficient, you can install it yourself, it goes a long way towards mitigating the fire risk, protects your tank from pressure damage, and it makes your refuelling process more efficient as well. We call our mechanical overfill protection solution FillSafe Zero; because it fills safe, with zero pressure build up in the tank.

Q&A: The Threat of Fires During Refuelling »

Overidden fuel nozzles, a leading cause of tank damage

Q&A: The Threat of Fires During Refuelling »

Tank damage from pressure and vacuum, which occurred due to ineffective refuelling system selection, use, or maintenance.

Q&A: The Threat of Fires During Refuelling »

Sam Barnes – On the tools during a fuel infrastructure upgrade project.

Sam joined Banlaw in 2011 where he worked as a Mechanical Service Technician specialising on HME maintenance and site infrastructure for the management of industrial fluids. Sam has installed and serviced hydrocarbon hardware and systems on over 50 Australian mine sites, and regularly travelled to Indonesia and West Africa to help improve maintenance management systems for Banlaw customers. Sam now manages Banlaw’s service operation from the company head office in Newcastle, Australia.

Speak with a specialist

If you want further information about achieving fast fills, and no spills, then read more about our Pressureless Overfill Protection Solutions, or Speak with a Specialist at Banlaw.

Austmine Mine Safety E-Book

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View our Tank Overfill Protection Products

Mechanical and Electronic OFP solutions available

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