Towards the beginning of the century, there were statements made that the South African specification for fire retardant belting were lacking. Unscrupulous importers of belting obtained ‘golden samples’ for testing by
SABS, who then certified that the belts were indeed in accordance to specification ‘SABS 971’, the spec that catered for fire retardant belting. Many users fell into the trap of accepting the certificate that SABS has fairly tested the belt in accordance with the specification and that it passed. It should be noted that in the current climate, should a belt not have the SABS mark on it, it does not comply.

Unfortunately, some of the manufacturers of the imported belting mentioned above do not have the ability to continuously manufacture belting of a quality that would pass the rigorous SABS test in a sustainable manner while maintaining a competitive price.

Reviewing specifications
The first update to the SABS specifications started happening around 2002, when a group of highprofile users and all manufacturers affiliated to the Conveyor Manufacturer’s Association (CMA) formed a working group, in conjunction with SABS, to review the SANS series of specifications for conveyor belting. After many meetings and heated debate, in 2003 the revised version of SANS 971 was published.

For industry this was a step in the right direction, with both users and manufacturers gaining a much better understanding of the intricacies of manufacturing and testing fire retardant belting.

Still not up to international standards Even though the 2003 version of the specification was a vast improvement in terms of being a test specification for fire retardant belting, it lacked the punch to put it in line with the best in the world.

More discussion, lots more debate, and the workgroup agreed to incorporate the mid-scale gallery test. This was the enhancement of the ageing specification to put it in line with international standards.

The users affected embraced this idea but the manufacturers recognised that there would be cost implications in a market that was already going south at the time. Nonetheless, the mid-scale gallery test was incorporated and at the time, and still today, South Africa has a first-class specification when it comes to fire retardant belting.

Resulting from the publication of the new specification, importers of non-compliant belting were restricted in distributing their products.

Unfortunately, there were some incidents where conveyor belting caught fire, resulting in the demise of some workers underground.

The Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) then changed the industry.
Recommendations made The DMR, in a real effort to do good, recommended to users, all users, irrespective of whether it is a fiery mine or what material is being handled, that it would be in their interest to use fire retardant belting, and in some cases even on surface, as this will reduce the risk of fatalities caused by a conveyor belt fire. Keep in mind that it is typically not the flames of the fire that is the risk, but instead the toxins and smoke inhaled by the victims.

The perception that using fire retardant belting on surface will make them DMR compliant prompted many users of hard rock mines and even diamond mines to start using grade ‘F’ belting on surface, and the demand for the product increased.

Once again, the importers of products non-compliant to the SABS specification started supplying belting, competing with locally manufactured belting and some reputable importers. This in turn lead to a situation where local suppliers were shunned in favour of imported products, that failed the midscale gallery test.

Furthermore, this ‘safety’ drive gave rise to a term ‘surface FR’, or ‘Old FR’ implying that a belt is manufactured to SANS 971:2003. It is said that the belt would be suitable for use on surface, but not underground. Although probably true, there is significant risk because if such a belt would find its way underground, and a fire happens and there are injuries or worse, the DMR is likely to shut such a mine down, resulting in significant revenue losses, not to mention the trauma and legal implications of such an incident.

It is thus in the interests of each user to ensure that when an order is placed for fire retardant belting that the order is placed using specification SANS 971:2013 (due for review), and nothing less. When ordering a belt from a supplier that may be doubtful, there would be little value in performing tests on samples, as those samples may be purpose-made for the test, with no assurance that such quality is sustainable, leaving the user at risk.

Local manufacturers can all manufacture belting that comply to the specification and test in accordance with it. Dunlop, being a leader in the industry spends significant time and money on research and compound development. They can perform the complete suite of SABS belting tests in their fully equipped laboratory and modern mid-scale gallery test facility.

Dunlop’s door would always be open to assist users and manufacturers alike to ensure compliance to specifications.

Dunlop Industrial Africa
Dr. Paul Nel, Tel: (011) 741-2500
Email: info@dunlop-africa.co.za