| Written by Michal Wozniakowski-Zehenter
Mines can be an extremely unsafe environment with possibilities of collapsing, explosion, flooding, fire, and machinery accidents which can instantly affect a huge number of people. Workers might also be exposed to hazardous gases and dust, which can lead to many diseases.
Learn in this article about mining technology, safety systems and devices that improve and maintain safety standards in the mining industry.
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The biggest goal for all stakeholders and Health & Safety Organizations is to minimise the risk by establishing & updating safety regulations by incorporating different technologies. But it's not the end of the journey; with the current acceleration of developing new technologies, the risk of incidents will decline even more. So where are we stand today, and what can we do to better monitor the situation and prevent unfortunate actions?
Below we list different types of systems and devices which can be crucial to ensure high standards of your Health & Safety Regulations:
The rapid development of autonomous mining technologies combined with accuracy and longevity made it possible to reduce risks by shifting some of the duties to robots and automated machines in the most vulnerable areas. Just to name a few:
That said, mines are able to explore deeper ores and perform in more extreme environments without risking harm to valuable personnel and assets. In addition, additional sensors detecting hazardous materials and monitoring structures help better planning and detecting issues in early stages to increase the effectiveness of the next steps required to operate.
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Mine workers are usually exposed to extreme conditions, whether heat, dust, or heavy machinery operating nearby. Wearable sensors alert the system and responsible supervisors about the position and movement of staff and vehicles in order to minimise the risk of a collision and can eliminate injuries to maintain better safety records. They can monitor the concentration of dust particles to avoid respiratory problems and detect carbon dioxide to prevent poisoning within a working group. Earth movement detectors notify about potential threats before they occur and allow miners to relocate to safer areas. Wearables are usually small and light devices that can be worn on the wrist or attached to your hard hat or parts of clothing, which doesn't affect any performance but monitors the workplace to ensure safe surroundings.
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RFID-based transponders are also a crucial technology regarding safety solutions in the mining industry. The tags monitor personnel's location, movement, and performance as wearables and machinery. On top of that, they can detect and alarm upfront potentially hazardous situations naming cave-ins as an example. In case of an emergency, tags inform master control about the position of personnel to have a better picture of where to focus rescue teams in the first place. RFID tags are also useful while blasting to ensure all personnel is in safe positions. Read more about miner tracking here...
GPR is widely used in mining, tunnelling, and quarrying. The radar detects changes in rock type, sense fractures, joints, and faults. Therefore, it is invaluable in evaluating mine sites, tunnel design, and stability of rock masses in their non-intrusive way, which already indicates safety. GPR also monitors major shifts in the earth's surface, slope changes, and any signs of strain. Together with seismic monitors and radio communication systems, it is a part of the slope monitoring system, which can detect potential danger upfront and notify workers about stability and risk of collapsing and cave-ins.
Distance and complexity of the terrain are obstacles to quick response to check and monitor areas. UAVs are being used for stockpile management, surveillance, or haul monitoring. They are also being used to improve safety by overlooking everyday operations and searching for potential risks, hazards, and fields for improvement. Another common way to use drones is to inspect dangerous areas that could be risky for a worker or investigate collapsed tunnels to help locate personnel and give a better overview and understanding of a situation.
3D Models of mines and Virtual and Augmented Reality are present to optimise operations by training. It can lead to saving in fuel consumption, transportation time, or liveliness of equipment. In safety, simulators are used to train new and not yet experienced miners in operations, replacing potentially harmful environments with a digital solution during the learning process of new rules and regulations. This helps to gain awareness in practical situations likely to occur during work and identify gaps in skills and knowledge.
Last but definitely not least is the data as itself. All previously mentioned mining technologies collect, process, and analyse real-time data. But that's not all – internal archives, training materials, observations, and incident data also contribute. To complete the system, external data is needed with industry standards and geospatial and weather information. Building an integrated system allows for analysing and identifying potential future high-risk scenarios. Advanced analytics and artificial intelligence search for patterns and correlations to predict dangerous operational scenarios and working groups in order to prevent them before those incidents occur. Cross companies' exchange of information is needed to better understand the data while approaching zero harm future.
As you see, a wide variety of mining technologies can be used to improve the safety of the working crew and, as a consequence, improve the scheduling and timelines, save costs together with resources, and enhance the efficiency of your operations. But no solution works for everyone. Most of the different technologies work best in combination with others. Everything depends on the complexity of the operations, the biggest needs, but also the budget.
Safety technologies are not cheap but can help to prevent huge-scale accidents, which may lead to severe injuries of personnel and big delays in operations (Learn how the Chile mine disaster transformed an entire sector!). That's why many companies go beyond minimum requirements and invest in new solutions to have more understanding and possibility to prevent dangerous situations. Also, all mentioned above solutions will work properly only with adequate safety regulations, safety drills in place, and self-awareness of the employees, leading mining safety to zero harm.
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