Vehicle fires have become one of the most pressing dangers within Australia’s trucking industry, whether to the driver or the general public. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) released its first bulletin aimed at tackling this issue last month, after a slew of incidents within the past year, outlining ways for fleet operators and truck drivers to recognise risks, take effective measures to prevent fires and ensure driver safety.
And while truck fires are one of the less common safety risks in Australia, compared to well-known dangers like speeding or fatigue, they can have a huge impact on your business. NTI Insurance, Australia’s leading truck insurance specialist, reveals that while on-board truck fires make up just 8 per cent of claims, the fires usually result in a six-figure payout as the truck, trailer and on-board cargo can all be destroyed.
Identifying the common risks of truck fires
A small spark can evolve into a full-blown catastrophe within moments. The pre-conditions for any fire include having combustible materials heated to their ignition temperatures, an appropriate amount of oxygen and a clear path for the fire to burn through. For example, exposed wiring that crosses a trail of leaked oil from the motor can quickly lead to disaster.
Whether you’re the operations manager or the driver, it’s important to know what components of your vehicle can pose a potential fire hazard. These can be as small as the insulation along your internal wiring, plastic tubing and rubber coatings, or as large as plastic noise shields or flooring in the driver’s cabin.
The NHVR bulletin also identifies some of the most common fire risks in heavy motor vehicles, including the shorting of electrical connection, inappropriately-rated components, failures along the fuel line and not maintaining a clean engine bay.
Incorporating preventative measures
Once you’ve assessed and identified potential risk factors for an on-board fire, it’s crucial to incorporate effective preventative measures to maximise your fleet’s safety and longevity of the assets. The two most important things you can do to reduce risk within the driver’s cabin is to keep at least a 2kg fire extinguisher on hand and run the battery through an isolation switch when the vehicle is parked.
In addition to an isolation switch for the battery, you should provide circuit breaker protection for the alternator, trailer feed and cabin power supplies to cut off power in case of an emergency. Only use electrical components that have been appropriately rated and avoid using clamps that have a metal spine and a thin rubber insert - use rubber-block clamps instead for safely holding in place main electrical cables. While DIY repairs can save you money, having an auto electrician properly maintain and fix wiring is extremely important.
If you’re using a plastic conduit to protect your electrical leads, ensure that it has fire-retardant properties, and when you’re fitting hoses used for oil or fuel, keep them far away from the exhaust. It’s also worth checking that if a hose were to malfunction and begin spraying flammable fluids, it’s not going to spray the contents directly onto the exhaust pipe. You can go one step further by installing flame-retardant drop-down curtains, along with a fire blanket, that protect the cabin and anyone inside from extreme heat in the event of a fire.
Integrating cutting-edge technology
By using an electronic pre-trip checklist, your drivers can alert you of any new or potential faults with your truck before they turn into a major risk. For example, if a driver comes across a build-up of carbon dust alongside the alternator, you can take the truck in question off the road until a thorough service has taken place. An electronic checklist will also give you peace of mind knowing that your safety records are always up-to-date, as opposed to relying on paperwork that might be outdated.
Likewise, a preventative maintenance schedule will minimise truck fire hazards while also ensuring you don’t have a vehicle unexpectedly out of commission, which can impact everything from driver safety to job scheduling and customer service. Automatic alerts when a vehicle is due for a service will provide confidence that your vehicles are all up to code.
And of course, when integrating any new fleet technology, you should always use certified hardware installers to ensure tech is implemented safely and correctly, or you put your vehicles at risk of short circuits and electrical fires
Executive director, safety standards and assurance at the NHVR, Geoff Casey, says, “prevention is better than cure and there are measures available to different parts of the heavy vehicle industry that can assist in fire prevention”. To keep your employees safe, it’s vital to take a proactive approach to identifying, addressing and mitigating the risks.