Hammering home safety

Mining is a notoriously hazardous industry, spurring some companies to go the extra mile in ensuring the health and safety of their people.

Located in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, Glencore’s Ravensworth operation employs around 800 people and is made up of an open cut mine and a coal handling and processing plant (CHPP).

According to Glencore Operations Manager Tony Morris, employee safety is the company’s top priority.

“We continue to investigate and implement new safety systems and controls to minimise the risk to our employees,” he said.

“The ultimate goal of Glencore’s SafeCoal program is the production of coal with the certainty there will be no fatalities or injuries to people working in or around our operations.”

Glencore CHPP Manager Phil Enderby has overall responsibility for the CHPP and said he took safety very seriously.

“One of our main safety concerns is the risk involved with the amount of maintenance that is required,” he said.

“There are many tasks that involve a lot of planning, assessment and control of risk, and we like to get the guys to think about why they are being safe.

“It’s not just about compliance – we want them to think about what they value in life outside of their work so these thoughts are with them when they are doing their risk assessments.

“They may have kids and be looking forward to a holiday with the family, and you can only do that if you are healthy.

“We encourage the guys to think about these things and remember there is always a good reason to keep safety front of mind.”

Recognising the prevalence of hand injuries in industrial environments – many of them due to the use of hammers – Glencore’s senior management issued a company-wide challenge to eliminate the use of hammers across all facilities.

Mr Enderby and the CHPP at Ravensworth was one of the first sites to take up the challenge and chose to focus on the maintenance of its screen media, which plays an important role in grading and dewatering coal from the mine.

Screen maintenance is scheduled every two weeks, whereby technicians get onto the screen decks to examine every single screen panel and assess the aperture size.

The panels are replaced according to the wear of the apertures to optimise the life of the panels without compromising screening efficiency.

The removal and replacement of screen panels typically involves the use of a 1.25kg hammer to drive the tip of a demolition screwdriver between panels to lever them out, allowing technicians to clean, inspect and replace them. Panels are then hammered back into place.

All this is done while the technician is lying in narrow areas on the screen deck.

Mr Enderby said the job was quite challenging and physical.

“The biggest problem is the ergonomics of crawling around in a small space over the screen deck,” he said. “The risk is associated with the use of hammers and other tools in an awkward position.”

The solution

Traditional screening media panels are held in place by the compression of the polyurethane surrounds which clip onto a mounting strip, hence the necessity to lever them out.

Finding a solution that didn’t rely on hammers for the installation and removal of screen media led Mr Enderby to Metso, which put together a prototype system.

With the new system, the polyurethane surrounds of the panels have been modified with a recess that fits around a locating block on a newly-designed mounting strip.

A tapered bottom on the polyurethane edge allows the panels to slip easily into place. A 1220mm-long top protection cover strip locks the panels into place with M16 hex head bolts, which are protected from impact from the coal by deflectors built into the strip.

Screening media panels are simply removed by unscrewing the retaining bolts with a battery-powered rattle gun, allowing technicians to lift o  the protection strips and

lift out the panels. This procedure is reversed for the replacement of panels.

To measure the success of the new screen media Mr Enderby set three criteria – improved safety, no compromise in efficiency and no impact on screen integrity.

“We had to assess whether it had a positive impact on safety; and it categorically has,” he said.

“We have virtually eliminated the use of hammers in screen maintenance, which is a very positive safety outcome for the guys.

“The efficiency hasn’t been compromised either. In fact, although it is hard to quantify, it is incrementally better than before because each screen panel has a slightly more open screen area.

“So far, there has also been no impact on screen integrity.”

Metso Screen Media Solutions Technical Manager East Coast Keith Blair said the impact of this new system was potentially revolutionary for the industry.

“What we’ve created in this hammerless screen media system is so simple that it can readily adapt to almost any modular screen in the mining industry,” he said.

“We see huge potential for improving safety by reducing both hammer strike and fatigue-related injuries during screen media change-outs for workers across all mining sectors.”

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