21/02/2014

Strong industry leadership to maintain bus safety record



by Christina Cortese

The National Advisory Group on Bus Fires, an industry–government initiative, is working hard to implement bus fire mitigation guidelines as an Advisory by mid-2014.

The new Advisory will provide a set of agreed standards for government and commercial bus operators, government agencies, bus and coach manufacturers, and bus body builders in relation to bus fire mitigation measures.

Volvo Buses Australia, a company with a strong tradition and industry-leading focus on road safety, has supported its Sales Engineering & Bodybuild Manager, Dean Moule, to become an industry representative to the Advisory.

Dean says the new guidelines will create a shared level of understanding that will greatly strengthen the bus industry’s commitment to passenger safety, which aligns with Volvo’s priority for the highest level of safety for operators and passengers when it comes to public transportation.

Vehicle fire risks can be related to engines and tyres, but the new Advisory will focus on preventing the higher risks that usually involve engine fires.

“We are very focused on prevention,” says Dean of the Advisory’s approach.

“For engine-based fires, it’s a case of identifying high-risk areas and ensuring they are better protected for everyone’s safety.”

The Advisory is working to standardise different levels of fire protection systems on buses.

Passive fire protection systems include better insulation of the engine bay to the passenger compartment or better vehicle design to increase the time that it takes for a fire to travel through the vehicle. Active fire protection systems include systems that can be manually activated by the driver to extinguish a fire in the engine bay and increase the time for passenger evacuation.

Dean says the Advisory has also identified the need to provide more standardised training for bus drivers in the event of a fire, and the need for early warning sensing systems to alert bus drivers to a fire much earlier.

“To increase the safety for passengers, drivers and other road users, we still have a considerable amount of work to get through in the next three or four months,” Dean says.

“We expect the Advisory to be released mid-year will benefit operators and passengers.”

Dean says it’s encouraging that some major government bus operators are already mandating on-board fire protection systems ahead of the guidelines being released, which indicates the high priority of bus fire mitigation for the industry.

“Some government operators in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia are installing fully automated fire extinguisher systems on their buses,” Dean says.

“In the event of a fire or a high temperature in the engine bay, these protection systems will automatically turn on and extinguish the fire.”

Across more than 87,000 registered buses operating on Australian roads, the bus industry records at least one potentially fatal fire incident every week. No bus fire fatalities have occurred in Australia but one major incident would quickly change the industry’s strong safety record.

In the interests of road user safety, Volvo Bus Australia looks forward to the release of the bus fire mitigation Advisory in mid-2014, which will provide an industry standard for passive and active fire protection systems, driver training, and sensor alarms to alert bus drivers earlier.

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