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Detecting gases for the safety of workers and mines

By Ntsako Khosa

Health and safety in mines have recently been in the spotlight for a number of reasons such as mine deaths (often resulting in a mine shut down for a few days), sickness from mineworkers as a result of exposure to fumes and/or dust and fall of ground (FOG) among others.

Moving machinery is the second highest cause of fatalities in South African mines after FOG, making the implementation of effective proximity detection systems (PDS) a crucial step. Since 2015 government passed a law for proximity detection systems to be used in underground mines.

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PDSs are there to prevent fatalities, injuries, damage and loss of down time. Image credit: Becker

According to Anton Lourens, managing director of leading PDS supplier Booyco Electronics, the Department of Minerals and Resources (DMR) has laid the groundwork for the wider application of PDS through the February 2015 amendment to Chapter 8 of the Mines Health and Safety Act (MHSA). It is now mandatory that PDSs are installed on all mobile equipment on mines.

What the law says
“Mines are required to assess significant risk in terms of moving machinery and people; and based on that assessment an action plan needs to be in place to mitigate that risk,” Lourens says.

The act deals with four industry categories: underground electric machines (where the law is clear that these must have an intervention system); underground diesel equipment (where only a warning system is required by law for now); surface diesel machines (which also legally require a warning system); and mining plants such as refineries and smelters (where PDS requirements are not clearly defined).

“The revised MHSA allows for intervention systems on diesel machines underground and on surface, but is currently excluded from the promulgation so that’s where the confusion comes in,” Lourens says. “Underground electrical machines must have intervention systems while underground diesel machines do not have to; it does appear that the requirement will be enforced, but not right now.”

Lourens says PDS technology is currently being developed to fully cater for all the requirements of the revised law; hence the staged implementation of the various requirements. A global initiative by large mining companies – the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table – is facilitating collaboration between stakeholders to help advance the technology.

The DMR has laid the groundwork for the wider application of proximity detection systems (PDS) through the February 2015 amendment to Chapter 8 of the Mines Health and Safety Act (MHSA).
“Mines are required to assess significant risk in terms of moving machinery and people; and based on that assessment an action plan needs to be in place to mitigate that risk,” Lourens says.

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Proximity Detection Systems are now required by law in all underground mines. Image credit: Becker

What’s in the market?
“There are two different kinds of gas protection systems that are available,” says marketing manager of MSA Safety, Suraksha Mohun. “There are portable and fixed gas protection systems which both provide protection in different working conditions and environments. Ä portable gas system is one that is worn on your person, while a fixed system is a permanent fixture that is usually in an environment like PC rooms or control rooms for gas explosions or leaks,” she says.

In the mines, the mining operations specifically expose miners to various types of gases. “Because that is where you are churning, digging for natural resources, natural gases can be emitted from underground,” says Mohun. Underground mines are regarded as confined spaces, and therefore create oxygen deficiency – which can result in fires. “In mines, cooling plants are usually found on the surface, so it’s about cooling down the mine underground,” says fixed gas fire detection sales engineer at MSA Africa, Etienne Jacobsz. Mohun says that it is absolutely essential to have some sort of gas protection because it is unknown exactly what miners are going to be exposed to at any given time.


Moving machinery is the second highest cause of fatalities in South African mines after FOG, making the implementation of effective proximity detection systems (PDS) a crucial step.


 Jacobzs says that gas protection is applicable to all mines. “Gold, platinum, coal mines all have different gas hazards to identify,” he says. He describes that in gold mines cyanide is a common gas and the best system to combat this is a fixed gas protection system. “Ammonia is basically applicable to underground mines due to the heat levels. Carbon monoxide is another gas that is a by-product of fire while carbon dioxide occurs when there is no airflow in the area,” he says. Whichever gas is detected, MSA Africa has a product to cater for any situation.

The Altair 4X multi-gas detector from MSA Africa is the only instrument of its kind with ATEX certification. This means the device has an IP67 ingress rating, which certifies it for water immersion. The Altair 4X has been put through its paces at Harmony’s Bambanani Mine near Welkom in the Free State. One device was dropped accidentally, and run over by a piece of heavy machinery used to convey blast material from the rock face.

Another was caught up in a mud rush, and recovered nearly a month later after a clean-up operation. After a good clean and a replacement screen for the former, MSA Africa instrument technician Riaan Swanepoel confirms that both devices are still fully functional.
Harmony attributes the Altair 4X’s ruggedness to it being water- and dustproof, which makes it perfect for underground conditions.

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The rugged and multi-gas waterproof detector Altair 4X from MSA Africa.Image credit Ngage

The Altair 4X is the only multi-gas detector in South Africa to carry the SABS Mark for Flammable Gas Detectors, which means it is fully compliant with the regulations of SANS 1515-1.
The key to the Altair 4X’s effectiveness is the patented XCell sensor, which has a ‘clear time’ response of under 15 seconds. The sensor has a lifespan of four years, which is double the industry average. MSA manufactures its own sensors in-house, with full quality control procedures as per SANS 1515-1.

Other gas detection products from the safety company include one that incorporates all basic necessities into one device, eliminating the carrying of multiple equipment while working. “It has an integrated thermal camera built into the pressure gage module, which is a first in the market,” she says.

“In gas protection we’ve integrated Bluetooth technology because that is the way that the market is leading. It’s all about information systems and technology, communicating wirelessly. Bluetooth also makes it easier to communicate information over a short range through to control rooms to see what each person is doing,” she says. Therefore it provides real-time information for the end-user.

Over recent years special focus has been placed on mine health and safety by the government and unions. It is this attention with regulations and laws that has caused the mining industry to pay as much attention to saving lives as it does on production. The heightened focus has led to the birth of revolutionary and innovative products that guarantee safety of those working underground as well as the free flowing production of minerals.

For more articles click here to view the March/April 2017 issue of MMPR

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