While enjoying a very hot and humid day golfing in South Florida, I was reminded of a three-and-a-half-hour road trip to a mine site in the Pilbara, Western Australia. The trip was made in the middle of the Australian summer, through the viper-infested outback in extreme heat. The HVAC in the rented utility truck barely kept up with the body heat from the four of us in the truck, and the “feels like” 110F external temperature. Bam, whop whop whop, the right rear tire blew out, and we came to a screeching stop. Thanks to the safety mindset and lessons learned, there was a spare in good repair. We scrambled out of the truck, into the blistering heat, and set about changing the tire on the asphalt. In seconds, the heat radiated through our boots, we had to get this vehicle moving before the heat created bigger problems.
Why would anyone take a road trip through the outback in the middle of summer? I was asking myself the same question. What was an inconvenience for me was the daily living conditions for the miners we would see. This interminable heat left the ground dry and working conditions profoundly dusty. We suffered from an HVAC system struggling to keep up; the rock trucks, dozers, motor graders, and shovels faced similar issues. HVAC system problems were caused by failures in the air quality control system, which was designed to prevent dust from saturating the HVAC evaporator core. The mine fitted new air quality control systems to the entire fleet three years earlier. However, staff and vendor changes resulted in unresolved maintenance issues and the opportunity for a local “expert” to retrofit the air quality systems. The “expert's” lack of knowledge of the existing system and his desire to add his components to the mix resulted in 100% of the systems failing to provide cab pressure and clean air to the HVAC systems.
The reliability engineers assigned to solve this problem took us out to review the failing machines. In each case, the problem and the recommended solution were the same. The solutions were standardized in ISO 23875. Had the standard existed at the time of the “experts” visitation, his petitions to change the systems would have fallen on deaf ears. Since then, the reliability engineers have learned the truth about ISO 23875 – it works. The standard addresses their immediate and long-term concerns for machine reliability and operator protection while protecting their company from expensive experiments with local “experts.”
The miners working in the Pilbara do fantastic work in challenging environments. We are grateful for all that they do.