“It is incumbent upon mine owners to institute comprehensive risk assessments followed by an action plan that incorporates the appropriate sensing and monitoring equipment, to drastically reduce the risk of underground fires,” says Anton Lourens, Managing Director of Booyco Electronics.The leading causes of mine fires are flame cutting and welding operations, frictional heating and ignitions, electrical shorts, mobile equipment malfunctions, gas leakage and spontaneous combustion. The Benxihu colliery disaster in China cost 1 549 lives and is believed to be the worst ever coal mining disaster. The tragedy occurred on April 26, 1942 in the Honkeiko coal mine, located near Benxi in the Liaoning province of China. The fatal explosion of the underground coal mine was caused by a mixture of gas and coal dust.The fact that mine fires continue to occur with alarming regularity reinforces the importance of recognising and eliminating the potential hazards and the overall need for improved fire detection, control and suppression technology to ensure the best possible outcome during a mine fire.Booyco Electronics has a number of products that have been designed and developed for local mining conditions. Leveraging the vast experience and knowledge accruing to the company’s team of engineers and technicians, the company has worked closely with its mining customers to find solutions to the specific risks apparent underground. The EXia T4 Intrinsically Safe ESI Smart Sensor meets the requirements for gas monitoring at fixed locations and incorporates unique design features that effectively address the shortcomings of conventional sensor instrumentation. These features include a localised display of sensor information and the ability to measure one of 15 different gases from a single controller. Gases typically measured by the unit include oxygen (O2), carbon dioxide (CO2), flammable gases such as methane (CH4) and combustible gases such as carbon monoxide (CO).The modular design of the IP56 ESI Smart Sensor makes repair and calibration easy. Should a sensor fail, then only this sensor unit need be removed, eliminating the need to open the main enclosure to install a new sensor. Similarly when the sensor calibration expires, the sensors can be replaced in situ with new pre-calibrated sensors. The IP68 rated Sentient handheld unit was developed specifically to improve safety in underground mining and in any confined spaces in surface plants, and is the first multi-gas instrument in South Africa that also measures relative humidity as a standard offering. The Sentient is also available with Fire Patrol capabilities. Distinguished by its bright red seal, the Fire Patrol Sentient is inserted into outstations located in specific areas underground, where it records date, time, gas and humidity measurements.By instituting a downloading network configuration, users can gather data from up to 500 Sentient units in a matter of minutes. Specialised web-based software enables various reports to be generated, such as detailed information on gas detected in the underground environment, peak values, TWA values, pre-shift tested values, calibration reports and “no movement” reports. The low maintenance Sentient is protected against water ingress and features is a drop protection capability that automatically switches off the sensor if the instrument is dropped.The Remcon Fire Detection system has proven highly popular with many of the industry’s leading mines, with one installation deploying 750 sensors. The popularity of the system is due to its adherence to the mining industry’s requirements for reliable monitoring of gases underground. Incorporating Booyco Electronics’ Smart Sensor enables the Remcon Fire Detection system to provide localised display of sensor information and with its plug and play format, system maintenance can be conducted with ease, allowing sensors to be replaced underground without the need for recalibration. The Remcon Fire Detection system uses open wire modem technology and can run over long distances, making it ideal for use in mines. The control room system is able to use any industrial type SCADA software package, such as Adroit, iFix, Citect, InTouch and Wincc.“Mine fires represent one of the greatest threats to those working in the underground mine environment. Booyco Electronics will continue to collaborate with customers to develop products that decrease the risks through ongoing sensing and measuring of gas,” Lourens concludes.