How does a fire start?
For a fire to exist, a combination of three elements is required:
- fuel – a flammable or combustible material
- oxygen gas or another oxygen-rich compound (although non-oxygen oxidisers exist)
- ignition source – source of heat or an ambient temperature above the flash point for the fuel/oxygen mix.
These elements in the right proportions must then be able to sustain a chemical chain reaction to keep the fire burning.
Outbreak of fire is the most common incident type reported for mining operations. Any situation with the presence of both an ignition or fuel source, or the introduction of either source has the potential to result in a fire.
Examples of fuel sources
- flammable liquids and gases (e.g. fuel farms, processing plant, accommodation camps)
- combustible metals
- electrical equipment (e.g. sub-station).
Examples of ignition sources
- heat (e.g. hot surfaces on mobile equipment, cigarette butt, molten metal)
- electrical energy (e.g. arcing, lightning)
- mechanical energy (e.g. cutting, grinding)
- chemical reactions (e.g. reaction inside tyre).
These can be present in the form of fixed and mobile plant, services to mining and accommodation infrastructure, and in the nature of some work undertaken on site (e.g. maintenance, blasting).
Guidance about addressing some common fire hazards has more information on the common fire types.
There are some environments associated with mining and exploration where the presence of a fire poses a particular danger.
If working some distance from a mine site or in a remote location, access to fire-fighting resources may be limited.
If a fire starts in an underground mine, the confined conditions, restricted evacuation options, and potential loss of air quality due to smoke and noxious fumes pose a challenge.
The remote nature of some mining or exploration operations means that the external threat of a bush fire can affect the lives of workers, operation of the mine or exploration camp, and associated assets (e.g. bore fields, air strip).
Managing the risk
To help manage the risks associated with fire, the basic approach is to:
- recognise the hazard
- keep fuel and ignition sources apart as much as practicable
- have an effective maintenance system
- have risk and emergency management plans.
A standard risk management approach is required.
For more information go to Why is risk management important? and associated pages.
It is important to be prepared and have an emergency plan in place with appropriate training and resources.
For further information go to Developing emergency response plans.
Reporting a fire
The outbreak of fire is a notifiable incident under section 78(3b) of the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994.
Refer to s. 78(3b) of the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994.