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Fires from drive shafts gains focus of regulator

mobile plant drive shaft fire from driveshaft failure

A range of mobile plant and equipment fires stemming from universal joints and drive shafts has drawn the attention of a mining safety regulator.

The NSW Resources Regulator has issued a safety bulletin highlighting the requirement for mines, maintenance organisations and manufacturers to revaluate safety systems that mitigate potential effects from incidents involving drive shafts.

The Regulator has highlighted several failure incidents that resulted in fires on mobile plant. It said that although no one was injured in the incidents, differing circumstances could have resulted in serious injuries or fatalities.

The regulator highlighted that catastrophic failure of drive shafts has resulted in damage to adjacent hydraulic system components that became fuel sources for fires.

universal joint failure resulted in a plant fire
Failed universal joint on LHD

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In one incident highlighted by the Regulator, a shield hauler was driving in an underground coal mine, when a bearing failed on the universal joint connecting the drive shaft from the engine to the torque converter, at the torque converter end.

The drive shaft was not restrained by safety loops. Before the engine could be shut down, the drive shaft spinning at engine speed contacted components, hydraulic and pneumatic lines, which resulted in a spray of hydraulic fluid and compressed air that ignited.

The operator manually activated the fire suppression system that extinguished the main fire. The operator also had to use a hand-held fire extinguisher to snuff a fire in the sound suppression material, which was on the underside of a transmission area access cover knocked open by the drive shaft.

Fire prevention in mobile plant

A range of strategies are available to prevent driveshaft fires in mobile plant. Those strategies include:

  • effective design by OEM;
  • ensuring preventative maintenance schedules are conducted effectively and that during maintenance operations surfaces remain clean and free from the build-up of oils and grease;
  • isolation of potential fuel sources from potential drive shaft failure points;
  • ensuring fire suppression systems are installed and operating.

Back in September last year, a haul truck driver died following extensive burns while exiting a mining truck at a Peabody operation in the US.

Recently AMSJ reported an agitator truck was extensively damaged by fire following ignition of non-metallic/flame resistant engine covers. AMSJ have published reports on the value of Infrared Thermography and recent information on Infrared cameras in assisting to identify potential fire ignition points.

Images: NSW Resources Regulator

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AMSJ April 2022