| Written by Mark Buzinkay

When it comes to safety in the mining industry, monitoring the crew is crucial. By keeping an eye on things, the control room operator can help ensure that everyone follows safety protocol and that any potential accidents are averted. Additionally, the control room operator can provide a valuable resource for coordination in the event of an emergency. So, if you're looking to improve safety in your mining operation, be sure to have a qualified control room operator on staff and provide them with the right tools for excellent visibility.
Monitoring miners

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Control room and its role

As mines continue to increase their levels of mechanisation and automation, the importance of control rooms is growing proportionally (see also our article about mine productivity).

Operational control rooms play a critical role in mining operations' efficient and productive running. Control rooms provide situational awareness and act as the hub of operations management by collecting, analysing and relaying information. In its most basic form, a control room can be a desk in the corner of a planning room equipped with a two-way radio and desktop computer. However, the more advanced control rooms feature state-of-the-art communications infrastructure, people and material tracking tools, and visualisation capabilities that rival those used in the most advanced manufacturing and processing facilities.

Mining operations must utilise best practices regarding control room design, layout and functionality to maximise efficiency and productivity. Some of the key considerations include the following:

  • Ensuring that the control room is centrally located and has good visibility of the overall operation (underground visibility: optical and digital)

  • Providing clear and concise visual displays that show all relevant information in an easily digestible format

  • Creating an ergonomic layout that allows operators to work comfortably and efficiently

  • Incorporating state-of-the-art communications, tracking and visualisation tools

By following best practices for control room design, layout and functionality, mining operations can maximise efficiency and productivity while ensuring the safety of their employees.

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Communication technology in the mining industry

As a centralised institution, the state-of-the-art control centre is where all aspects of the mining operation can be monitored and controlled. These expectations can be achieved by visualisation of all operations, including production, plant and logistics, and creates a highly efficient, automated, low-cost, and, most importantly, safe operation.

The control centre relies on communication technology to receive data from various sources and send instructions to the different parts of the mine. Typically, a fibreoptic backbone is used in a greenfield project down the shaft, and the wireless mesh network provides fast communication between the control centre and the different parts of the mine. Additionally, the leaky feeder system supports two-way radio communication in all mine areas, ensuring that everyone can stay in contact with each other.

The capabilities built into the control centre include mine planning, production scheduling, fixed plant management, safety management, monitoring miners and production, control, backfill management, breakdown and planned maintenance management, processing and remote operations and analytics.


Monitoring miners and The Control Room Operator

The control room operator is the backbone of a mining operation. They monitor all aspects of the mining process and ensure everything runs smoothly. Without a control room operator, a mine would quickly become chaotic and unproductive.

"The Control Room Operator ensures the safety of miners by managing and controlling the shift underground communication and monitoring strategies. By doing so, they enable safe and efficient mining operations," says Geir Nerbø, VP of Sales of Identec Solutions, "The Control Room Operator's role is essential to miners' safety". Their ability to think and act quickly, communicate effectively, and troubleshoot problems can mean the difference between life and death for miners underground. Therefore, monitoring miners and tracking their locations is a critical safety-related task.

The Control Room Operator manages the underground communication and monitoring strategies. This includes tracking the location of miners, coordinating communication between miners and the surface, and providing information to miners about changing conditions underground.

As efficient communication is essential, control room operators must be able to quickly and accurately communicate with other members of the mining team, including the miners themselves. This communication is necessary to coordinate the mining operation's various aspects and ensure everyone is on the same page. Therefore, the control room operator is a vital member of the mining team.


Monitoring Miners with AI-Support

Next, advanced data analytics and AI can really transform the operational efficiency of the control room. Predictive analytics uses such data to predict equipment failures or other operational problems in a control room before they strike, thereby bringing down elapsed time with a concomitant improvement in safety. AI algorithms are capable of combing through vast amounts of data emanating from multiple sensors and systems in near real-time to generate insights that stretch human abilities. The technology can identify patterns and anomalies indicative of potential dangers, allowing operators to act in real time. More significantly, however, AI could be infused into legacy systems to automate decision-making processes that will position teams and operators for more efficiency whenever crisis situations arise and for more global mine operation optimization. All these advanced technologies would help leverage mining operations toward productivity and safety and toward new operational excellence.



What is the best way for monitoring miners?

RTLS using RFID or Wi-Fi tags is best for monitoring the movement of underground miners for safety. Also, environmental sensors ensure continuous monitoring of air quality, gas levels, and temperature to avoid hazardous conditions. Installation of communication systems, such as leaky feeder networks, keeps miners in constant contact with surface operators. Further, the integration of data into centralized management software allows for the analysis and response to conditions of any nature with high efficiency and on time. These technologies have integrated and blended in to ensure effective monitoring, enhance resilience, and improve operational efficiency in underground mining environments.



Monitoring miners and tracking systems

Tagging and tracking systems enable effective safety management from a central control room through real-time location tracking of personnel and equipment, often used to augment legacy clock-in, clock-out systems.

The improved situational awareness from systems such as Crew Companion reduces operational delays during normal operations, allows shafts to be cleared faster before blasting and reduces the duration of rescue missions when accidents occur by providing vital decision support to control room operators. "Crew Companion provides the necessary visibility to Control Room Operators to perform their daily task in the safest way," says Nerbø. "LKAB, one of the biggest iron ore producers in the world, uses Crew Companion in their mines in Sweden to optimise the blasting schedule and guarantees safe operations under the highest industry standards."

The control room is the central nervous system of most process-oriented organisations, not only in mining. It is where all critical information about the organisation's operations is displayed and monitored, and decisions are made regarding executing these operations. Because of its importance, the control room has become increasingly scrutinised in recent years as organisations strive to improve their overall performance.

One area that has received considerable attention is the integration of people and technology in the control room. Studies have shown that there are significant barriers to effective communication and collaboration between operators and other members of the control room team due to the lack of efficient information representation in the control room (e.g., poor visualisation of data and inadequate alarms). In addition, human-machine interfaces (HMI) are often not optimised for human cognition, and this can lead to errors and inefficiencies in operator performance. "What we need are intuitive, real-time interfaces", says Nerbø, "allowing a quick situational overview, especially when tracking miners."

Improving operator training is another key area of focus for control room improvement initiatives. Operators need to be properly trained on the use of new technologies and systems, as well as on the organisational procedures and protocols that govern the execution of their work. In addition, it is important to ensure that operators have the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively collaborate with other control room team members.

Finally, optimising organisational factors such as staffing levels, shift patterns, and workflows can also improve control room performance. For example, by ensuring adequate staffing during peak periods, organisations can reduce the likelihood of errors and delays in decision-making. Similarly, by redesigning workflows to reduce the number of handoffs between operators, organisations can improve the efficiency of control room operations.

By taking a comprehensive approach to control-room improvement, organisations can achieve significant gains in performance and safety. However, it is essential to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each organisation will need to tailor its improvement initiatives to specific needs and requirements like monitoring miners. Nonetheless, by focusing on the key areas discussed above, organisations can make significant progress towards optimising their control rooms for improved performance.

Further reading: Miner Tracking - Tag solution in real-world scenarios



Based on the information above, there are several key areas that the mining industry needs to focus on in order to improve control room performance. These include integrating people and technology, optimising workflows, and providing adequate operator training. By taking a comprehensive approach to control room improvement, organisations can make significant progress towards optimising their control rooms for improved performance and safety, especially monitoring miners.

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Dive deeper, browse through our wide selection of articles and learn much more about miner safety!


(1) https://theminingexecutive.com/the-era-of-smart-mining-how-ais-transformative-forces-and-technology-are-crafting-a-new-narrative-for-smart-mining-investments-and-business-strategies/

Note: This article was updated on the 1st of July 2024



Mark Buzinkay, Head of Marketing

Mark Buzinkay holds a PhD in Virtual Anthropology, a Master in Business Administration (Telecommunications Mgmt), a Master of Science in Information Management and a Master of Arts in History, Sociology and Philosophy. Mark