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Crane operator struck by lightning

Lightning strikes and lightning safety at mines

A crane operator has been struck by lightning at work near the Brisbane port in the early hours of this morning. The incident has demonstrated the risks of operation of equipment in lightning storms and the need for Lightning safety TARPS.

The young woman in her twenties was reportedly working in a storm at 2.50 am when the crane was hit by a lightning strike. Queensland Ambulance Service says that woman was transported to the Royal Brisbane Women’s Brisbane hospital in a stable condition.

While the recent incident is not mining-related, mining operators have previously been warned by mine safety regulators regarding inherent risks of operation of heavy equipment where lightning storms are identified. We have compiled a range of information that may assist in communicating the inherent risks of lightning when operating at mines.

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Lightning incidents affecting mining operations

Richard Kithil, President & CEO of the USA based National Lightning Safety Institute says that there is substantial evidence of lightning affecting mine operations, including the following incidents:

  • Miners are killed when lightning exploded methane gas inside a subsurface mine. A comprehensive approach to lightning safety is absent. (USA, Russia, and China)
  • Mine-wide mobile radio communications fail following a lightning strike to a central radio tower. Surge protection was not adequate. (Canada)
  • Five maintenance workers are injured when lightning strikes a stationary vehicle. The lightning early warning system is low cost and old technology. (Peru)
  • A central computer system is damaged by a lightning strike. Important geological data is lost. Grounding methods are found in violation of codes and standards. (U.S.)
  • More than $US one million is spent on some 350 unconventional-design lightning rods. The product is not approved by U.S. or international lightning protection codes and standards. Safety to all buildings is compromised. (Peru)
  • A mine has no policies/procedures in effect for lightning safety. Accidents under dangerous conditions result in production delays and liabilities for management. (Australia)
  • Four of eight gas turbine generators suffer lightning-induced failures. Production losses at the mine are $700,000/day. The power shortage lasts three months. (Papua New Guinea)
  • Lightning causes failure of a primary water pumping system. Underground flooding closes the mine for 45 days. (South Africa)
  • Smelter potline is “frozen” after lightning hits a substation. 164 pots have to be dug out by hand. Production is shut down for seven weeks. (U.S.)
  • Haul truck is struck by lightning with consequential tire explosion. Grenade-like fragments kill two workers. (Mexico)
  • Mine superintendent standing outside during a thunderstorm is killed by lightning. (Australia)
  • Radio operator inside a building is killed by lightning. Grounding is poor. (Indonesia)
  • Mineworker next to a tree is killed and another is injured. (Dominican Republic)
  • Two workers are killed and seven are injured in two separate incidents in gold and copper mines. (Laos)
  • Lightning disables two substations near an underground mine. 275 workers are trapped two kilometres below the surface. Production is suspended. (South Africa)
  • Two exploration crew members struck by lightning are airlifted to hospital. Hand-held detector fails to warn of threat in time for evasive action. (Peru)

Consider mine warning systems and TARPS to alert personnel

Many mine sites utilise alert systems for lightning activity including a range of alert levels and commercially available lightning warning systems.

Typically, on the approach of storms (with lightning detected in the 10-20km) mine sites should consider:

  • Lowering of crane booms;
  • Lowering of drill masts;
  • Stopping work on rooftops and other work at height areas such as scaffolding in open areas, EWPs and scissor lifts;
  • Ceasing all works in the vicinity of an overhead power line, metal piping and rail lines, manholes that don’t have the appropriate lightning protection;
  • Ceasing blasting operations and establishment of blasting perimeters;
  • Ceasing processing/dispensing of bulk liquids, ammonium nitrate, anhydrous ammonia and any other dangerous goods.

Potential locations of lightning strikes on mine sites

Hazardous locations on mine sites include (but are not limited to:

  • Hilltops and ridges;
  • Areas on top of buildings or in open structures;
  • Open fields.
  • Parking areas.
  • Sumps, dams, and other pools of water.
  • Near wire fences, clotheslines, overhead wires, and fixed rails.
  • Under isolated trees.
  • Near electrical appliances, landline telephones, plumbing fixtures, and
  • Metal or electrically conductive objects.
  • Near windows (inside buildings).
  • Open-sided machinery.
  • Waste dumps

What happens if lightning strikes a heavy vehicle?

You should always consider the risks and TARPS for your individual site. Many sites in Australia have processes for management of risks of lightning for specific activities.

Richard Kithil says that heavy equipment is considered generally safe in nearby electrical storms but there are a few conditions that must be met.

His advice is that “The operator should shut down the equipment (when an early warning is issued), close the doors, and sit with hands in lap, waiting out the storm. In no circumstances during close-in lightning should the operator attempt to step off the equipment to the ground in an attempt to find another shelter. Very dangerous step voltage and touch voltage situations are created when a “dual pathway to the ground” is created.

Mines should consult local practices and review AS/NZS 1768:2007 Lightning protection and relevant State-based regulatory guidelines which highlight risks of tyre explosions on mining vehicles following lightning strikes.

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