The Guardian 12 October, 2005

Worker’s report:
another fire at BHP-Billiton Mine

Once again I report to you of yet another fire at the Mt Arthur open cut coal mine near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales where a large hydraulic excavator (a Leibherr 996) caught fire last month. I am pleased to report that the operator of the digger was not hurt during his attempt to put the fire out while he was on board the machine.

When the crew reported for work and did their routine pre-shift inspection of the digger, the operator noticed that some major hydraulic hoses were leaking and needed changing and the crew duly reported their findings to the maintenance department. Senior mine officials overruled the maintenance people about stopping the digger, which lead to the men on the job standing the machine down as unsafe to operate. At this stage I wish to add that just over a year ago the same make of excavator caught fire for the same reason: leaking hoses in the engine room spraying oil over a hot engine causing a major fire destroying a digging tool.

After the digger was stood down, contract fitters swapped out the leaking hoses which took eight hours and the all clear was given to put the machine to work at about 4.30pm. The digger operator did another visual check and then started to load the waiting trucks. After 3 trucks were loaded, a truck driver noticed oil or water pouring out of the back of the engine house resulting in an emergency being called. The pouring oil quickly turned into a fire and the machine’s fire suppression system was activated briefly stopping the fire.

When the sister machine caught fire some time ago, the men on the job insisted that fire safety be addressed more rigidly and a deluge system was installed to all of the Leibherr digger fleet, unit numbers 207, 208 and the newest unit, 209, which was on fire. The deluge system is one where the engine house is plumbed out with water pipes and spray jets that are supplied from an external source, e.g. a water truck. After the emergency was called the first water truck that responded was connected to the deluge in pipe and the poor old truck didn’t have enough pressure to drive the system, so the next water truck was connected and doused the fire.

There was a few embarrassed faces at the fire when the "you beaut" fire system wouldn’t work when hooked up to a very tired old water truck. There had been some reports of low water pressure on some of the water trucks but it was like "water off a ducks back" to senior mine production people, which doesn’t say much for the Zero Harm policy of BHP-Billiton where it says "People before Production and Profit".

The resultant investigation into the fire found that a small hydraulic hose in the hydraulic pump room on the machine room blew out causing oil to spray over a hot engine which eventually ignited. An ICAM investigation is now under way into the cause of the fire, so I guess we will have to wait till the smoke clears to see what action, if any, the brains of the senior maintenance planners come up with to prevent this happening again. The workers on the job were told that a fire like we had 12 months ago in a similar machine would never happen again because of the work done to prevent this occurring like preventative regular servicing, the fitting of the fire deluge system and the emergency escape chute, which is a fire proof sock that falls down from the operators cab directly to the ground.

All of the above safety systems would not have been fitted but for the ongoing pressure of the men on the job and their union reps continuing to hound the company to install better fire suppression. Well done comrades!!!

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