The growing inclusion of new, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in place of traditional diesel-powered vehicles has raised a new set of safety concerns within the mining industry. Whilst using BEVs in daily operations will help companies become more sustainable, the process to implement changes to established safety protocols can be slow. In such a high-risk working environment, it is vital companies understand the risks when it comes to using BEVs and update their working practices accordingly.

The journey to electrification

To generate the consistent supply levels of raw materials needed to meet growing global demand, the industry saw a rapid uptake of automation in the 90s and 2000s which has since become integral to operations.

With automated processes, methods of production and cameras, automation has also increased aspects of health and safety within mining. However, the introduction of BEVs has introduced new safety challenges to the industry and companies simply cannot afford to wait for legislation to catch up.

Accelerating the way to a sustainable future

The industry take-up of BEVs is not only due to their sustainability credentials, but additional factors such as this technology’s ability to improve air quality within mining operations. This in turn reduces the requirement for ventilation and cooling, improves worker safety and lowers ventilation costs.

Initiatives such as Cleaner, Safer Vehicles from the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) have also accelerated the implementation of BEVs by bringing together members and global OEMs. However, with lead times for new BEVs taking an average of five years, manufacturers will find themselves pushed to keep up with market demand.

Lowering risk with regular servicing

With the influx of BEVs into the industry and more on the way, mining companies need to be aware of how to prevent fires as far as possible. Regular servicing and maintenance is key to this, as BEV fires can occur if vehicles are subjected to temperature changes, such as overheating, or mechanical or electrical violence or damage. Other risk factors include over or undercharging, mechanical failures or production issues, all of which can result in a battery short-circuit.

If this happens, thermal runaway can occur, leading to rapid increases in temperature that can cause fires or release dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide. If left unsuppressed, thermal runaway can lead to deadly vapour cloud explosions which can cause major destruction, particularly within the confined area of a mine.

Spotting thermal runaway early is therefore crucial to mine safety. Whilst many protective solutions don’t activate until temperatures start to rise, Dafo Vehicle’s solution is unique – detecting the poisonous fumes that signal the start of thermal runaway and acting immediately to suppress it.

New technology needs new safety protocols

Automation and the continued rise of BEVs within the mining industry will require a step-change in safety regulations. Companies should look to invest in systems with instant response at the earliest stages to lower risk, reduce potential downtime and limit wider damage to other vehicles – saving on cost in the long run should an incident occur.