Safety Bulleting – Mines and preparing for fires

January 28, 2018 Tara

Mines and preparing for fires
KEY INFORMATION
• Mine and petroleum site operators must ensure that their safety management
system and their emergency plan can be used to respond to foreseeable
emergency situations caused by fire events.
• Mine and petroleum site operators must consult with Fire & Rescue NSW, or
the NSW Rural Fire Service if within a rural fire district, when preparing and
reviewing their principal hazard management and emergency plans.
• All underground mines should have a documented underground fire risk
assessment that is current and specific to its operations, with appropriate
controls in place to manage the risks.

BACKGROUND
Some areas of NSW have experienced extreme fire events in recent weeks that have
been within the vicinity of mines and petroleum sites. Severe weather events may also
result in fires initiated by lightning strikes or other sources with high-velocity destructive
winds. These fire events may present risks to health and safety.
In the past few months NSW Mine Safety has noted there has been an increase in the
reporting of fires on mobile and fixed plant on mine sites that had the potential to cause
major damage, destroy machinery or harm a person. Fire and explosion events may
disrupt mining operations.
Mine operators must also be aware of other regulatory reporting requirements as a
result of a fire or explosion event

LEGISLATION
Work health and safety legislation relevant to fires and explosions in mines and
petroleum sites include:
• Work Health and Safety Act 2011, which contains provisions relating to safe
systems of work and ensuring the health and safety of workers and others who
may be affected by a work activity, and provisions for the management of risks
• Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011, which includes provisions for specific
control of fires and explosions, fire protection and firefighting equipment and
provisions on PPE and emergency plans
• Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Regulation 2014, which
includes provisions specific to principal hazard management and control
measures for fires or explosions, and provisions on emergency response
Further legislation
• Coroners Act 2009, which empowers coroners to investigate fires and
explosions that destroy or damage property or those where people have been
injured within the state. This allows coroners to determine the causes and
origins of—and in some cases, the general circumstances concerning—these
fires and explosions.
• Fire Brigades Act 1989 and Rural Fires Act 1997 outline the powers of fire
authorities to access property to supress fires and conduct investigations, along
with specific requirements about the notification of fires during bush fire danger
periods.
DISCUSSION
Fire events may cause damage and operational losses, as well as threaten the health
and safety of people at mines and petroleum sites. The safety of the public may also be
at risk from mine site fires or explosions. The fire may spread beyond the mine
boundaries with bushfire and harmful smoke threatening offsite people and property.
Coal mines and mobile equipment account for the vast majority of the fires incidents
reported to the regulator. Bushfires nearby or on mining operations may threaten
surface infrastructure such as mine ventilation fans, office buildings and worker
facilities, power supply lines and structures, handling and processing plants, rail and
other ancillary supply infrastructure.
Bushfires may also impact mine access and exit for workers and emergency services
personnel, mobile plant, stored flammable and combustible products such as coal
stockpiles, chemicals and explosives, and even coal seams in pit and where they
outcrop on the surface.
Coal seam fires have serious health and safety impacts. They are often started by
lightning or bushfires, and are particularly dangerous because they continue to
smoulder underground after surface fires have been extinguished, sometimes for many
years, before flaring up and restarting bushfires nearby.
Smoke and hot embers from surface fires may inundate underground mine workings
resulting in, among other hazards, poor visibility, reduction in the quality of air and
other breathing difficulties for workers underground, and the evacuation of the mine.
Hot summer weather may result in total fire bans and may have implications for mining
and petroleum operations within the fire ban regions.
Mobile and fixed plant fires may result in major damage to the equipment or even total
loss with the plant burnt beyond repair. People operating the equipment, located
nearby or fighting the fire may suffer burns, if not serious or even fatal injuries.

When there is a significant fire or explosion event on a mine or petroleum site, external
emergency services such as the NSW Rural Fire Service, Fire & Rescue NSW and
NSW Police may also respond, in addition to activating the emergency response
arrangements at the mine or petroleum site.
The Coroner is required to be notified of fire and explosion events that have destroyed
property or caused damage of a value greater than $500,000. As well as notifying the
regulator, you should contact NSW Police when such a fire or explosive event occurs.
RECOMMENDATIONS
The work health and safety legislation of NSW requires mine and petroleum site
operators, contractors and other persons conducting a business or undertaking at mine
and petroleum workplaces to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential risks and
emergency situations caused by fires and explosions.
Mine and petroleum site operators must ensure that their safety management system
and emergency plan can be used to respond to foreseeable emergency situations
caused by fire events.
Mine and petroleum site operators must, in so far as reasonably practicable, consult
with Fire & Rescue NSW, or the NSW Rural Fire Service if within a rural fire district,
when preparing and reviewing their principal hazard management and emergency
plans.
Underground mines
The prevention of fires is a priority for underground mines as they can prevent people
from leaving the mine site and can lead to smoke inhalation, serious or fatal burns,
asphyxiation and other serious consequences such as explosions.

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