The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Vacuum Truck Fire Safety Alert

Graham Marshall - Thursday, April 04, 2013
An industrial vacuum truck was vacuuming out a sump in a reagent area of a mineral processing plant when the vacuum pump motor caught fire. 

The fire then ignited gases in the interceptor (the large receiving tank on back of truck) that had built up to explosive levels. 

Material was ejected up to 30 m away.

Investigation showed that the fire was started by a wire leading from the battery to the vacuum pump starter motor. 

The wire was not protected by a fuse and overheated, igniting the wire’s insulation. 

The resulting fire then ignited gas that had built up in the interceptor. 

The gas came from the sludge material that was being cleared up by the truck. 

The sludge included residue and material from the sodium ethyl xanthate tank in the storage bund. 

This material is itself spontaneously combustible, but it can also produce combustible and explosive carbon disulphide gas and ethanol vapors. 

Additionally, the vacuum truck was not fitted with any fire suppression other than a hand-held extinguisher.


1. Identify any sumps that may contain hydrocarbons or other flammable materials before clean up work starts and discuss this information with the workers undertaking the task. 

2. This information must be input to the risk assessment process used for this type of task at your mine.

3. Ensure that suitable electrical protection techniques are used with such diesel pump and motor installations. 

4. Check similar types of equipment and assess whether additional controls, including an appropriate fire suppression system, are needed.

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