Underground mines are hazardous environments, potentially exposing workers to a range of health and safety risks. From extreme operating conditions such as thermal stress, air pressure, and ventilation hazards – to rock bursts and heavy equipment accidents, underground workers are exposed to fatal and chronic conditions linked to their environment. Personnel safety is, therefore, of paramount importance in mining – and the industry has taken significant strides to create a safer work environment over the years. Advances in technology and the introduction of strict safety regulations by MSHA have resulted in a reduction of workplace incidents in recent years, but have not completely eliminated the possibility of safety hazards.
In this post, we detail 5 technological innovations in mining that have the potential to revolutionize safety in mining:
1. Wearable Technology
The use of IoT-linked wearables has far-reaching potential for safety in mining. Some of the common applications of these devices today include detection of environmental conditions such as air quality, the location of workers, and monitoring of fatigue levels of truck drivers and operators of heavy machinery. The devices relay a warning signal early on for potentially harmful or dangerous situations, thereby reducing risks and preventing accidents.
2. Robotics and Automation
Autonomous technologies are bringing a new measure of safety to mines, while also boosting the efficiency of operations. Advances in the capabilities of robots and automated machines have made it possible to take over activities traditionally carried out by human-controlled machinery. From self-driving trucks to robotic haulage, drilling, and other processes, autonomous equipment boosts safety by removing workers from hazardous environments.
3. Radio-frequency Identification (RFID)
Mining companies are increasingly turning to RFID tags to track their assets underground – whether human or vehicular. These lightweight, inexpensive tags are used to pinpoint the location of workers and equipment in real time, while also tracking their movements. Wearables equipped with RFID tags are used to monitor environmental conditions and alert miners to potential hazards. Another application of RFID systems includes monitoring of usage patterns of heavy equipment to which they are tagged, thereby helping schedule part replacement or fluid changes and optimizing equipment maintenance.
Drones offer a lot of promise for safety in mining. By collecting imagery from areas of mines that are not safe for human inspectors to enter, and producing digital terrain models of sites – drones replace labor-intensive methods of surveying, inspection, and mapping.
5. Worksite Simulators
Worksite simulators are being increasingly deployed across the industry to provide on-the-job training to inexperienced miners in an immersive virtual environment, without exposing them to hazardous environments they have yet to experience. This helps workers experience practical situations they are likely to encounter during a shift and is also a great way to identify any knowledge and skill gaps.