Technical services manager Greg Powell said in a recently issued product notice that a testing program found that the material used in the PA99 Air movers failed to meet current requirements for Electrical Resistance AS1334.9 – 1982 and Fire Resistance AS1334.10 – 1982.
The company released the product notice to underground coal mines in New South Wales, but did not issue it as an industry alert.
Jason Wagstaffe, an industry risk-management consultant, said the ramifications would be “huge” if one of the non-FRAS units caused an underground methane ignition.
“This should have been an industry alert. Everyone in the coal industry who uses this product needs to be aware that it’s not FRAS,” he told ILN.
“The main issue is that we generally use venturi air movers to assist with dispersing methane gas at the working face.
“Venturi air movers are powered by compressed air. The movement of compressed air is known to create static electricity.
“If the device held a static charge, and that static charge was large enough, it could, in theory, ignite the very gas that it was assisting to disperse. Hence the reason why venturi air movers, for use in known hazardous environments must be manufactured from anti-static material.”
Wagstaffe knows of at least one mine that had to remove eight of the PA99 air movers from its underground coal mine last week following notification from VLI that the devices were not FRAS-certified.
Wagstaffe said he knew of several mines that were having trouble sourcing replacement air movers from other companies but was uncertain about why there was a shortage of alternative products available to the market place.
VLI is working with materials supplier Dotmar Engineering Plastics, the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, and NSW testing authorities to resolve the issue.
“We are bewildered by the results as there has been no change to our supply source, raw materials, the manufacturing process or the test regime,” Powell said.
“We are continuing to investigate this matter, which may take several months to resolve.”
VLI is attempting to source alternate compliant materials for the manufacture of air movers for the underground coal market and hopes to have a replacement FRAS product available within the next four weeks.
An Industry & Investment NSW spokesperson told ILN that VLI Conveyors acted in accordance with its responsibilities under the Occupational Health & Safety Act.
“Industry & Investment NSW has not issued a safety notice, and this is the normal procedure for these incidents,” the spokesperson said.