How technology can effectively manage and improve fatigue in mining
Data doesn’t lie.
According to recent studies, approximately 90 percent of accidents in the mining industry occur from human error. The majority of these accidents, which typically occur from mining machinery, are the result of driver fatigue and distraction.
For mining companies, there are direct and indirect consequences from fatigue. Direct effects include: lower productivity; equipment damage/premature maintenance, property damage; and fatalities, injuries and related expenses (lost time, medical expenses, workers compensation, legal expenses and regulatory fines). Indirect consequences may include everything from incident investigations, absenteeism to change in morale, higher turn-over rate and health, sleeping disorders.
Without a doubt, technology-enabled solutions have the ability to change that by monitoring, predicting, measuring and reducing fatigue events.
Caterpillar’s Fatigue Practice Manager Todd Dawson, a fatigue science expert with 20 years of experience building Fatigue Risk Management Systems, recommends three technological systems that will make immediate improvements to fatigue and distraction levels on site.
Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool (FAST)
One of the many tools used by Rio Tinto, FAST is a software system used to analyze specific schedules to determine vulnerabilities. It generates graphical predictions of performances along with tables of estimated effectiveness scores for objective comparison.
Developed by Fatigue Science, this wrist-worn device automatically detects an employee’s sleep and wake periods and converts data into an effectiveness score. Using Caterpillar’s Smartband system, supervisors can review sleep and performance data for employees, filtering by specific groups and dates.
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With data from the smartband, mining companies can incorporate it into the Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool to get a clear vision of their current state, as well as tools to help managers schedule workers for increased safety and performance.
Used primarily in Caterpillar’s MineStar technology, DSS is a non-intrusive way to manage safety in real-time. It uses a camera, which is embedded in the vehicle, to detect a driver’s pupil size, how frequently they blink and how long they keep their eyes shut. It also monitors the driver’s mouth in order to analyze when the driver is distracted and not looking at the road.
The purpose of DSS is to detect the onset of micro-sleep – fractions of seconds where a person has fallen asleep without realizing it. When micro-sleep is detected, an alarm will sound and the driver seat will shake, sending visual recordings to a monitoring center that will review the situation. IF fatigue is detected, the monitoring center will notify a supervisor at the mine-site.
The system has been installed in over 5,000 Caterpillar trucks, recording roughly 6,000 fatigue events and 1.5 million distraction alerts. The results are frightening. According to Caterpillar, over 1,641 miles have been traveled while drivers were asleep.
Although technology has the ability to significantly improve accidents among miners, it’s not a one-stop shop solution.
According to Dawson, the key is an effective Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS), which utilizes multiple layers of protection to minimize the risk of fatigue hazards becoming incidents.
“The Fatigue Risk Management System process is most effective when deployed in the sequence Engage, Assess, Define, Develop, Implement and Check. Each phase can also be used individually to help you reach specific goals.”
The system concentrates on having a process to identify the problem, fitting the solution to the problem (behavioral, physiological, operational) and managing the change (educating all involved parties, having clear prcedures for outcomes, follow up and improve).
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Todd Dawson leads a team of Caterpillar safety culture consultants who work alongside customers to develop operational excellence through safety improvement. Over the past 20 years, Todd has become one of the leading experts in developing and implementing comprehensive fatigue risk management systems in large, complex environments. He has played an integral role in shaping the landscape of fatigue management, particularly in the transportation, mining and oil/gas industries.
Smarter Technologies: transforming operations with IoT
Digital technology has become a key enabler of margin improvement and an enhancer of competitiveness in the mining sector. Although the majority of the top mining businesses have already started their digital journey in some capacity, many of the smaller players are lagging behind when it comes to digital transformation.
Smart Mining with IoT
Recent analysis by Allied Market Research, which estimates that the global smart mining industry is projected to reach $24bn by 2027, relays fears that those that don't join the big players in the digital uptake of solutions like IoT, will be left behind.
“As a traditionally risk-averse industry, many mining sector stakeholders struggle to invest in new technologies without a guaranteed return on investment (ROI),” explains Matthew Margetts, Director of Sales & Marketing at Smarter Technologies – suppliers of IoT solutions to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the Royal Air Force. “Innovative miners at all levels are using new technologies to make mining operations safer, more productive, and more cost-efficient.”
Mines are often dangerous places to work, and worker health and safety are top priorities for mining operations. Smart Mining Technology keeps track of your assets and has the potential to improve mine safety in several ways: locate people, recover machinery and reduce the risk of serious injury.
Autonomous mining vehicles have been around for nearly two decades. During this time, these vehicles have revolutionised mining by allowing humans to communicate with and control machinery remotely. In this day and age, the focus has shifted from the original autonomous mining vehicles to autonomous mining systems, which can carry out a series of integrated tasks automatically. Removing the need for humans to be on-site increases workforce safety.
The benefits of autonomous mining functions include:
- Improved safety
- Decreased incidents
- The ability to work in areas that would be too dangerous for humans
- Increased productivity
- Reduced labour costs
Predictive analysis and insights
When mining assets are connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) and a central management system, this enables operational intelligence. By analysing operational data, mining operators are better equipped to foresee and prevent any dangerous incidents from occurring. The ability to conduct predictive maintenance also means a lower risk of mechanical breakdown and failure.
Wearable technologies have become more advanced and non-invasive, making it easier to track the mining workforce, even deep underground and in remote locations. With real-time visibility of all staff, key workers can be located instantly. In the event of an emergency, response times and recovery rates are significantly improved. Along with improved safety, workforce tracking data can also be used to monitor staff attendance and identify where productivity can be increased.
A series of smart IoT sensors can measure virtually anything - from pressure to humidity, temperature, air quality, gas levels, sound and more. If the conditions in a specific area change in any predefined way, instant notifications can alert teams of potential safety risks and potentially prevent incidents before they occur.
Increase efficiency and reduced operational costs
Making mines “smart” has the effect of lowering operational costs. In a smart mine, key assets are digitised by embedding smart sensors that report data to a central system via a wireless network. Many of the same use cases of smart mining technology mentioned above not only improve mine safety, but also help to reduce operational costs.
Wireless monitoring systems that relay real-time data lower operational costs in a number of ways:
- Reduced reliance on paying human resources
- Reduced reliance on vehicles and petrol costs for data and asset collection
- No need for expensive cabling and system maintenance operations
- Maintaining critical assets more effectively increases return on investment
Having real-time visibility of mining assets allows you to track the location of your mining equipment when you need to use it. This is especially useful as self-driving machinery becomes more widely adopted in the industry. Instead of wasting time searching for various assets, you’ll be able to optimise productivity and profitability by streamlining your operations from your central management dashboard.
Automating the data gathering processes using smart technology reduces the need for time-consuming and potentially dangerous data collection. Access to real-time data is critical to optimising efficiencies and reducing costs. In contrast, by the time a worker has collected information and returned to the office, the data they have gathered is already outdated.
Maintenance and management
With real-time data connectivity and data analytics, you can optimise your mine’s maintenance schedules and production rates dynamically. With predictive analytics enabled by smart tracking and condition monitoring, you’ll be able to quickly identify required changes to predefined maintenance schedules to keep your equipment running efficiently and safely. This too avoids potential incidents that can disrupt or halt operations for weeks or months, in turn keeping the mine running and generating profits.
Although there are barriers to mines adopting new technologies, these must be overcome in order for mines to remain competitive and successful in an increasingly digital age. From improving safety to enhancing productivity and efficiency, smart mines are the future of the industry.