7 Examples of Modern Mining Safety Technology

June 21, 2022

Even with the latest advancements in mine safety technologies, mining remains a dangerous pursuit. Fatalities happen every year, even as mining companies continue to invest heavily in safety solutions. Extracting resources will always have its share of safety issues to mitigate. Everything from worker fatigue, distraction, lack of visibility and slope instability can contribute to increases in risk. The ultimate goal of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) is zero harm. One fatality is one too many, so the member companies and associations have committed to sharing information and protocols to reach that goal. In the following article, we look at seven different mining safety technology solutions. To achieve the goal of zero harm, many if not all of these components need to work together in harmony, in a connected system. 

1. Data

Data tops our list, for good reason. The remainder of the items on this list are means by which mining companies can collect data. The single biggest asset mining companies have in the pursuit of a zero-harm world is the data they collect. As advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and sensor technology continue to proliferate, harnessing their power to help predict safety incidents is now a very real possibility.

These kinds of predictive analytics are made possible by combining data from the primary sources:

Internal Data
This is anything from a company’s training materials, maintenance data, scheduling, safety standards, incident data and observations in the field. 

Telematics and Wearables
Read more below to learn about sensors on both equipment and workers that can help to monitor the movement, vitals, alerts, and operations of mining processes. 

External Data

A complete data system should also include external sources of data like weather, geospatial data, industry benchmarks and standards, and more. To harness the true power of data, these sources should be combined within a connected system, to help uncover patterns or correlations that might not otherwise seem evident.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the scope of the available data and to wonder how to put it all in context. The simplest approach for mining companies is to start with a hypothesis or a very specific safety question. Then look at historical events and compile any relevant data to those events to identify patterns or correlations. These patterns and correlations could become the basis for an early warning system or a new safety standard.

2. Wearables

As mentioned above, wearables have become a key component of mining safety technology. Sensors in watches, clothing, hard hats, glasses and more help with everything from monitoring the environment and vitals of the worker to collision avoidance and injury reduction. The underlying technology of many of these wearables is Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), which can be deployed in the form of inexpensive, lightweight “tags” that are used to monitor assets of all kinds. 

3. Proximity warning systems and sensors 

A large number of mining accidents involving people, also involve heavy machinery, especially haulage systems. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in the US alone there were 84 deaths involving heavy machinery between 2003 and 2007. 

This is why NIOSH has created an active proximity warning system, called the Hazardous Area Signaling and Ranging Device (HASARD). Workers are equipped with receivers that alert workers when they are within range of dangerous equipment. Transmitters fixed to machinery send signals that are communicated to the worker as visual, auditory, and vibratory alerts. These same sensors can also be used to detect other safety hazards like speeding, approaching vehicles and traffic events (like rollovers). 

4. Wireless methane sensors

Methane is notoriously dangerous. It’s highly flammable, odorless and colorless. It can be released during the mining process and remains an ongoing concern in many mining operations. Methane detection equipment is now commonplace in mines and has already helped reduce the number of related deadly accidents at sites all over the world. In 2010, two explosions led to the deaths of 58 miners — at the Pike River Mine in New Zealand and the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, US. After those two catastrophic events, wireless methane sensors became much more prevalent, using RFID to send alerts to several sources, including the computers of safety personnel on the surface. 

5. Dust monitoring 

Dust is dangerous in two ways; for the dangers of inhalation of silica or coal and for the potential explosive properties of airborne dust. Silica is especially dangerous because it can be hard to detect and can lead to silicosis, a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of crystalline silica dust. 

NIOSH has developed a special device, called a coal dust explosibility meter (CDEM) to give real-time data on the specific make-up of dust particles in the air. It remains a challenge to detect the presence of silica, but NIOSH continues to experiment with new sensor types to attempt to better detect its presence in the air at mining sites.

6. Worksite simulators

Training is one of the most important aspects of incident prevention in mines. New technologies are being developed to help educate workers about safety protocols and risk factors, even before they ever enter a worksite. Tools like 3D models, sometimes referred to as a “digital twin” of a job site can allow workers to orient themselves to the environment before they enter. Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR) solutions are also used to immerse workers in virtual environments, to allow them to experience risk events and rehearse their responses in a safe environment. 

7. Self-cleaning cameras: separating hazards from personnel

It has always been the wish of mining operators to be able to have a holistic, line of sight view of the operations. Sensor data, when combined with geospatial data and 3D modelling can offer powerful insights, but they are still only a proxy for the desire to actually see the operation. 

That same dust and other harsh environmental factors mentioned above have always made the use of cameras difficult. Traditional camera technology can easily be obscured by dust and rendered useless.  Self-cleaning cameras like ExcelSense’s ToughEyeTM help maintain that crucial line-of-sight, leading to improved awareness and safety. Since they are self-cleaning, these cameras avoid the need for continuous maintenance and cleaning, for their entire service life. This important distinction allows these cameras to be used as crucial operational sensors and a vital piece of holistic safety data collection. 

ToughEye self-cleaning cameras are often used as an effective safety tool in mining to separate the hazards of confined spaces, toxic atmospheres, and severe weather from personnel by enabling clear and reliable remote-monitoring capability without adding to the maintenance burden. Some examples include monitoring load-out points, belts in conveyor tunnels, and providing uninterrupted visibility to remote-controlled equipment. ToughEye’s singe-piece rugged construction, which has been purpose-built for harsh mining environments ensures hardware reliability. Moreover, its maintenance-free self-cleaning feature means that it will not require any downtime or maintenance, allowing for maximized productivity. 

To deploy new mining safety technology, start small, but have a structure for methodical rollout

As mentioned above, any technological endeavour, whether it’s data analysis or hardware procurement, should start first as a hypothesis. Once the business problems have been determined, companies can begin to experiment with the new technology, but those experiments don’t need to be full-scale. However the field trials need to be well-thought-out, should consider the requirements of all relevant sites, and should yield measurable and objective success criteria.  

However, once the effectiveness of the technology for the specific application has been determined, it would maximize value for the rest of the relevant sites to leverage the findings and lessons learned to prevent repeating the same pilots at different sites with similar applications.

To learn more about ExcelSense Technologies cameras for mining and discuss a possible pilot project for your location, request a quote.

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