In the mining and quarrying industry, it is vital for HVAC systems on mobile equipment such as dump trucks, excavators, dozers and drill rigs to be fully functional at all times to maintain safe working environments for operators.
This is the view of Grant Miller, executive director at Booyco Engineering, who stresses that if HVAC systems are not in good working order, operators are subjected to unsafe working conditions, which has a ripple effect on both safety and productivity.
“In extreme heat conditions, for example, there is potential that the operator can pass out due to heatstroke and heat exhaustion, which could endanger not only the operator but everyone on site. This also has an adverse effect on productivity,” says Miller.
Brenton Spies, MD of Booyco Engineering, says that most local quarries and opencast mines are typically located in areas that experience extremely scorching summer conditions and awfully cold winter periods. These extreme temperatures affect the wellbeing of operators and should therefore be mitigated through the use of consistently functional HVAC systems.
“A typical yellow metal hauler’s cabin is tantamount to a glass box. If, for example, you are operating in hot climates of about 40°C without any ventilation, temperatures in the cabin can rise to as high as 65 – 70°C in as little as 30 minutes, which is life threatening. It is therefore important to ensure that HVAC systems are in good working order at all times,” says Spies.
According to Spies, there are two important things to take note of when it comes to HVAC systems. Firstly, he says, it is critical that the system is designed for the operation’s climatic conditions. Consequently, different sites will have different requirements.
“It is therefore important to ensure that the HVAC systems are specifically designed for the operating environment. Failure to do that, they may not provide the appropriate cooling or filtration,” he says.
Secondly, adds Spies, it is also critical to maintain a stringent maintenance regime for these HVAC systems to function properly. “It is important to have the right equipment for the right environment, which is then maintained regularly to ensure that it works optimally. HVAC systems that are not properly maintained can force a production halt, which can be expensive for quarries and mines through lost production and hours of unplanned downtime,” says Spies.
Very often, he adds, HVAC systems are treated as an afterthought and are not afforded the necessary maintenance attention as long as they are still working. The thought process, says Spies, is that if it stops working, one can open the window, which in many mining conditions is a heath hazard due to the exposure to silica dust and other harmful fumes.
Long-term cumulative exposure to silica dust is likely to develop into serious health issues such as silicosis, silico-tuberculosis, pulmonary tuberculosis, obstructive airways disease and occupational asthma, among others.
“Having a safe working environment is equally important to having personal protective equipment (PPE). There is a greater focus on PPE, which is understandable, but providing an operator with a safe and comfortable working environment is just as essential as making sure that they are wearing a hard hat or their safety boots,” says Spies.
“Heat and body stress is defined as a category A safety hazard and drivers and heavy machine operators are therefore entitled to stop work if the HVAC system is not functioning properly,” says Spies.
According to Spies, the need for a safe working environment is being compelled in the South African mining landscape. Modern health and safety laws in South Africa are very demanding and operators are entitled to stop work if ambient temperatures in the cab are too high or, for that matter, too low.
“South Africa is, to a large extent, at the forefront of stringent health and safety laws. One of the reasons for this is because of the higher number of fatalities than in most other mining destinations in the world. Consequently, there is a huge focus by the regulator, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), to ensure safe mining conditions and keeping workers alive,” he says.
Right service provider
Working with an experienced HVAC service provider is also a must for mines and quarries to ensure that the systems are well looked after and always perform optimally. With a track record spanning over 37 years, Booyco Engineering has cut its teeth across a number of demanding sectors. For over three decades, the company has been designing, manufacturing and maintaining HVAC systems for customers in the railways, defence and mining industries.
“We started in the military, where we designed systems for military vehicles operating in high-vibration conditions. From there we expanded into the rail sector and eventually into mining,” explains Miller. “We initially designed bespoke systems for customers’ specific needs, which we still do today. However, from the 37 years of experience, we now know what works in certain conditions. We have therefore leveraged that experience to design standard units that can be deployed across multiple vehicles, thus shortening lead times for customers and making installation simpler.”
Booyco Engineering has been supplying and maintaining HVAC systems in mining for the past 20 years, during which time it has been offering its man-on-site service. The company still has units operating in these harsh conditions even after two decades, owing to the ruggedness and fit-for-purpose design of the units, as well as the complementary maintenance regime offered by the company.
“If a mine or quarry buys HVAC systems from us and also signs up for a man-on-site contract, we offer a five-year warranty. That’s how much trust we have in our design and manufacturing capabilities,” concludes Spies.