Washing away hazards
Emergency safety showers are now an obligatory safety standard in African mining where exposure to chemicals is very high. African Mining Brief examines the key issues that mines should be aware of about this ‘first line of defence’.
This might be regarded as a remote incident on an African mine: an employee exposed to a chemical splash or spillage. But, nine times out of ten, its consequences would be fatal. One can’t rule out the possibility of a serious injury with long-term consequences, permanent disability, and, in some instances, even death. That is why any delay in intervening might only worsen matters.
In the face of numerous systems, emergency safety showers and eye/face equipment have emerged are an effective way of washing off contamination and reducing the risk of long term injury when exposed one is exposed to chemicals. Representatives from leading suppliers and mines who have been approached for opinion by African Mining Brief, concur that the units help in administering first aid “as quickly as possible”, leading to long term benefits to the affected persons.
No fashion accessory, a necessity
Designed for both outdoor and indoor use, the emergency shower is not a fashion accessory on a mine site. In fact, its necessity is driven, in the main, by the need for mines to comply with government legislation in respective countries, and, more importantly, to ensure the safety of workers, who are their invaluable assets.
As you would expect, with increasing demand of emergency showers there now a huge spotlight on issue of standards. And considering that portable water is the most effective method of decontamination, emphasis (from both end-users’ and mines perspective that is) is on getting the correct flow rate, volume and temperature. For African mines, which are targeted by suppliers from all four corners of the world and more prone to getting a raw deal, this is essential.
Fortunately, there is a consensus in product standards. The global standard in mines, which is generally modeled on the American ANSI benchmark, explicitly stipulates that the injured person should be exposed to at least 76 litres of water per minute for safety showers and 12 litres of water per minute for the eye/face wash units. Further, in both instances, it should be delivered for about 15 minutes at a correct pressure at a temperature of between15 and 37 Celsius.
Of course, the right equipment enables successful decontamination. That is why as it has been pointed out in other articles in this publication, the burden is entirely on the respective mines to be cautious on what they pay for.
Scope and applications
What is at mines’ disposal?
Catering for different needs of mines, there are hand held, standalone or plumbed-in showers available. There is also a modular design which can be customised to suit a particular mine’s preference.
Specific to the hot African mining, which are in a hot climate, the showers should be fitted with self-draining valves to remove standing water in the pipe which can be heated by the sun.
Tank shower options have proved handy when the water pressure is low or unreliable. They can be suited for both indoors and outdoors. Depending on a mine’s preference, they come with optional features such as chillers and heaters to be used hot and cold climates.
Finally, a first aid response team should be trained to man the equipment in case of an accident.
Research and Development
The research and development front in the production of emergency showers is never short of activity.
“It’s a case of you lose, you snooze in this game of finding new clients and retaining them. I am not surprised that OEMs are outwitting each by introducing new products to make themselves relevant. Granted, this does not come cheap but there is nothing better that they can do.” says a representative from a Johannesburg agent who has just signed a deal with an Australian OEM.
One of the numerous advances is improvement in the performance of control valves in which failure rate has been very high when subjected to excessive force. Beyond doubt, the new valve technology is just what the doctor ordered for the industry.
Just like with any other mining equipment, mines dread footing hefty maintenance bills, what with escalating costs. With emergency showers it is no exception.
One of the factors which contributes to the escalation of maintenance costs in emergency showers is corrosion, which often occurs after exposure to chemicals on site. That is where Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) coated products have proved to be more resistant. There are also stainless and galvanised steel. These special products are durable and reduce maintenance costs relating to corrosion.
As regards maintenance, a critical aspect frequently neglected in mines is that regular servicing ensures that the equipment has optimal performance and provides reliable protection.
Is it worth a pretty penny?
The long and short of it, leading OEMs and suppliers settle on the following as the preferred features in emergency safety showers: accessibility, user-friendliness (in terms of operations), reliability and low maintenance costs.
Above all, mine managers involved in procurement should be aware of their needs and how equipment peddled to them fits into their plans. They should bear in mind is that what works best in the extremely cold Russian mine might not necessarily apply in a mine in Ghana. For this reason, they have to consider the type of emergency safety shower appropriate to their requirement, maintenance costs and it will enable them meet their safety objectives.