Safety-oriented technologies—from simple to sophisticated—can offer valuable assistance in accomplishing the crucial mission of keeping workers and equipment secure from harm

By Russell A. Carter, Managing Editor

Technology can play an important role in site safety, preventing workers from encountering risky conditions—such as the vehicle load monitoring setup shown here that prevents overloading, for example—or electronically enforcing awareness through pre-operational checklists and other routines that support best practices.

A recent study by a leading mobile mine-equipment supplier pins the blame for worksite accidents on two main causes: bad conditions and bad behavior.

The actual wording used by Caterpillar in its white paper Enhancing Safety—What Safety Concerns Keep You Up at Night? is “uncertain or unsafe operating conditions” and “risky operating behavior,” but the existence of either generally leads to a bad outcome.

What is surprising, the paper pointed out, is that only 10% of accidents can be attributed to unsafe conditions—the majority are due to equipment operators or other mine-site personnel acting in an unsafe manner.

The paper highlighted several levels of protection that can and should be systemically implemented to instruct and ultimately shield workers from making bad decisions that lead to mishaps. These measures are generally well known and include instilling a site “safety culture” that prompts workers to be constantly aware of safety rules and safe behavior in general; establishing a site policy that extends accountability for safety all the way from the top levels of management on down; comprehensive training in correct procedures and behavior; and operational scheduling that avoids excessive fatigue among workers, and ensures that there’s a good mix of experienced and inexperienced workers on the job at any given time.

The final level of protection recommended by Caterpillar is technology, a category that extends all the way from payload weighing systems designed to prevent equipment failure from overloading, down to individual protective-gear items worn by workers in maintenance, construction and other support-level mine-site activities. This article explores some of the choices available.

“Safety systems” for mining encompass a constantly expanding set of technologies that can be applied to specific mines, to a company’s global inventory of mining assets and properties, or to a group or class of industry clients in general. Often safety systems can be closely linked to other proprietary or open-source technologies to provide broader awareness of safety-related problems and performance.

Last August, for example, Cat announced the launch of a 24/7 equipment operator monitoring service designed to give its customers visibility to both machine and operator information related to actual or potential operator impairment. The system is based on around-the-clock information collection and analysis that can indicate the magnitude of conditions such as fatigue and distraction and their impact on operations.

Caterpillar’s fatigue management solution incorporates technologies such as the Driver Safety System (DSS), developed by Seeing Machines, a Cat alliance partner. DSS includes an in-cab camera and alert system to notify the operator the moment a fatigue or distraction event occurs. Events are tracked by analysts who also capture operator sleep quantity and quality information provided through the wrist-worn Cat Smartband, an actigraphy (rest/activity monitoring) solution powered by Fatigue Science, a Vancouver, Canada-based company specializing in fatigue-related risk management and human performance optimization.

According to Cat, when combined with machine data available through its EMSolutions equipment management analysis tool, MineStar and Cat Vital Information Management System (VIMS), operator performance data from the DSS and Smartband can present a clear picture of fatigue and distraction risk and its impact on productivity and profitability.

Modular Mining Systems, a Tucson, Arizona-based developer of mine-fleet management solutions, pointed out that today, as regulatory agencies and mine organizations continue to strive for a zero-incident workplace, mines are placing more emphasis on both standalone and FMS-integrated safety solutions.

Modular Mining Systems’ Collision Avoidance System is designed to avoid common causes of vehicle accidents.This increased emphasis on safety first prompted Modular to release its suite of Safety Management Tools, including their first-generation proximity detection system, in 2006. This suite, known collectively as MineAlert, meets the industry’s growing demand for increased safety by addressing mines’ most common safety-related issues: vehicle-to-vehicle collisions, operator fatigue, hazard awareness, and speed violations. The MineAlert suite now includes Modular’s fourth-generation Collision Avoidance System (CAS), which monitors and notifies operators of potential vehicle-to-vehicle collisions based on intelligent path-prediction algorithms, thus increasing operator awareness while helping to prevent equipment damage.

Modular’s CAS, which will be commercially available later this year, focuses on vehicle-to-vehicle collision prevention through the use of a redundant, multilayered sensing approach that utilizes ranging sensors and GPS receivers. These work together to determine a vehicle’s collision risk based on the travel speed, instantaneous direction, predicted path, and other factors. The critical communications between vehicles is based on a high-speed, low-latency peer-to-peer communications standard, which allows for timely warning and information messages to reach operators without delay. Its peer-to-peer technology also enables the system to operate in an environment with no wireless network infrastructure.

The system addresses more than 100 of the most common vehicle collision scenarios, including forward path (front-to-rear and head-on), take-off, speed limit violations, overtaking, and intersections. Multiple levels of alarms notify operators of potential hazards; if an operator doesn’t take corrective action after the first notification, more urgent, audible warnings will sound.

Unlike systems that focus solely on proximity, Modular’s CAS differentiates between actual and artificial collision threats by utilizing an intelligent filtering system to drastically eliminate false alarms (alarms that alert the driver when no collision danger exists; for example, a normal maneuver such as passing along separate lanes). These artificial alarms not only provide a constant source of distraction; they also reduce the effectiveness of the warning system by desensitizing the operator to truly dangerous situations.

“Compared with other Collision Avoidance Systems on the market today, we believe that our approach significantly reduces nuisance alarms,” said Lucas Van Latum, director of product strategy at Modular. “Our fourth-generation collision avoidance system is designed to predict potentially hazardous situations while reducing the false alarm incidents, helping the operator react appropriately to real alarms when they happen.”

As a fully functioning stand-alone application, Modular’s CAS doesn’t rely on external applications or central servers. Instead, an operator interface notifies operators of any potential hazards, and a dedicated in-vehicle CPU stores sensor data, which can be downloaded for use in analysis, reporting, and training. When integrated with Modular’s DISPATCH Fleet Management System, data is transmitted directly to the DISPATCH central server for immediate and future use.

As part of the MineAlert safety suite, Modular also offers OEM interfaces to leading, commercially available fatigue management systems to help combat the effects of operator fatigue. When integrated with Modular’s DISPATCH FMS, the MineAlert system sends the OEM data directly to the central server, to support reporting or integrate with other systems in real time.

Modular also offers the following additional safety-focused technologies:

The FastFeedback module, when combined with other DISPATCH system modules or data from OEM alarms or other external sources, provides the backbone for immediate, actionable input to operators. Onboard sensors or GPS events trigger real-time alarms and send configurable notification messages to operators, supervisors, and/or dispatchers, alerting them to hazardous road conditions or improper equipment usage.

The Speed Management module helps mines reduce potentially dangerous overspeed events. When equipment units pass through GPS-based monitoring zones, the equipment’s speed is compared with the configured speed limitvalues for the location. If a violation occurs, supervisors and dispatchers receive real-time event notification. When the FastFeedback module is present, operators are also notified via their in-cab display.

The Active Tire Management system builds upon a field-proven Tire Management module, giving mines a greater ability to actively manage tire temperature and pressure in real time, thus reducing the likelihood of premature tire damage. The system interfaces with tire monitoring systems such as the Michelin Earthmover Maintenance System (MEMS) to mitigate the risk of tire failures. Integration with OEM monitoring systems automates a number of actions previously performed manually, saving time, effort, and money, while simultaneously increasing operator safety.

The Prestart module ensures that operators are accountable for systematically verifying all necessary safety and maintenance items. A variety of unique Prestart checklists can be configured for each equipment model. At system login, operators are prompted to complete a Prestart checklist; the results of which are processed in real-time and recorded in the central database. If a failed checklist item falls within the “Do Not Operate” or “Contact Dispatcher” category, a failure exception immediately displays on the dispatcher’s screen, enabling rapid operator reassignment. A failed “Do Not Operate” item will also cause a notification, such as: “Do Not Operate Equipment! Contact Dispatch or Maintenance.” to appear on the operator’s mobile device screen.

Wenco, another fleet management system developer, highlighted in a recent blog post what it considers some of the main benefits of integrated and stand-alone machine guidance systems and their role in site safety. With a stand-alone system, “…sites can drop a system on a contractor machine and set it to work—no muss, no fuss. Some mines wonder why they’d ever need to integrate their fleet management and machine guidance systems at all,” noted the company, given their flexibility and cost advantages.

But, it also cautioned readers not to underestimate the benefits that come with integration: “With an integrated system, all your equipment stays in sync. Each unit works from the same database so they share information easily, whether they’re shovels or dozers, loaders or light vehicles. There’s no need to export data, convert it to another format, then upload it into another system.

“This kind of setup…improves safety,” according to Wenco. “Any unit running Wenco’s integrated BenchManager system sees every other unit connected to the fleet management system. The onboard screen shows their position, elevation, and current activity in real time. With that knowledge, dozers can easily maneuver around hazards and other equipment, even in foggy or dusty conditions. With a stand-alone system, equipment is confined to viewing only units on the same network. Any vehicles outside it need another way to stay safe on site.”

Wenco also noted that the Fleet Awareness feature of its PitNav software adds display of real-time movement of other Wenco-equipped vehicles traveling haul roads, along with the map and route information that is the main thrust of the PitNav product. The truck icon displays front and rear awareness zones. When other equipped units and user-specified exclusion zones enter a specified proximity to a haul truck, configurable audio and visual warnings are triggered to support operator awareness.

Todd Ruff, business development manager for SAFEmine Technology, explained to an audience at Mining Media’s Haulage & Loading 2015 conference that his company’s approach has been to integrate fatigue monitoring with collision avoidance, eliminating the need for two different vendors supplying safety technology while using data from the CAS to make the fatigue data more reliable. The SAFEmine system uses on-vehicle processing and electronics that offer the ability to share data and present vehicle status and summary data on a Web-based interface for safety and productivity reporting and analysis—working in conjunction with a mine’s FMS, if they have one.

He mentioned that a maintenance supervisor at a hardrock mine using the SAFEmine system had endorsed the system, noting that during the year after installation, the mine had a 53% reduction in vehicle ‘metal-to-metal’ contacts. A large surface coal mine customer also reported a reduction from 14 machine-to-machine incidents in the year before SAFEmine installation, to an average of one incident per year afterwards.

Beyond the collision avoidance features, SAFEmine also offers TRACK live vehicle monitoring, which integrates with the CAS electronics, using that system to establish equipment position via GPS and then relaying the information to a TRACK server. Although this may seem redundant for operations that already have an FMS installed, it can be useful to keep track of service trucks and other equipment that fall outside of the primary production equipment category, but still need tracking and status information for efficient maintenance and support dispatch requirements. The system can transmit relevant safety information to the dispatcher, as well, and to laptop computers and smartphones.

The TRAKR asset management device from Octagon Systems is another intelligent GPS vehicle-mounted tracking and control system that is claimed to integrate easily with FMS and IoT software to help mining and other industrial operations reduce risk through real-time, ongoing information sharing between people and equipment. TRAKR provides real-time access to mobile on-board or fixed field devices for remote monitoring and control and position tracking. According to the vendor, the system’s geo-tracking and geo-fencing capabilities enable dispatch to alert drivers of impending danger, preventing collisions and keeping vehicles on the road, while a nine-axis motion sensor alerts management of unsafe driving habits before accidents happen. Automatic alarms directly alert drivers of potential issues.

Octagon Systems, which has supplied a large number of its RMB-C2 embedded computers to Wenco for FMS applications, said TRAKR is designed to perform in extreme conditions and can withstand a wide temperature range (-40°C to 71°C). Built-in support for high-power, wide-range Wi-Fi, cellular, Ethernet, and radio technologies provide dependable communications to both outdoor and indoor network infrastructures.

Keytroller’s Cyberwatch SAT uses satellite communications to provide operational data, status, and text communication links with equipment and operators working in remote locations.

Apart from fleet-scale management and traffic control considerations, mining companies are among the many industry sectors interested in technologies that allow simple monitoring and location tracking of equipment at remote sites. To assist with this requirement, Keytroller—a Florida, USA-based supplier of electronic safety and weighing devices—has introduced the Cyberwatch SAT, a ruggedized, weatherproof satellite wireless hour, alarm and location meter.

Because machinery used in remote locations typically doesn’t have cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity, monitoring their usage can be difficult and costly. To address these issues, the Cyberwatch SAT provides equipment monitoring from anywhere in the world, without the need for a SIM card or local wireless plan, for a monthly fee.

Cyberwatch SAT uses the Iridium network and transmits up to six hour-meter readings and six alarm readings with GPS location, once per day. The client can view this information in their own Web portal or have the data sent to a smartphone where it can be exported via DropBox.

In addition to monitoring data, the device also can be used as a hub communicator. An operator can wirelessly connect a smartphone to the device; once connected, the operator can send an email or text message from their smartphone through the SAT device to anywhere in the world—a potentially lifesaving feature.

A user that knows the Cyberwatch SAT’S phone number can also text a command to that number. When the command is received, the device will send hour meter, alarm and location data back to the phone that made the inquiry.

The MineSafe Smartwatch is an early entry in the mining industry’s wearables-for-enterprise-deployment market.

As reported in the January issue, mineral industry producers and others have increasing access to employee-wearable personal location, tracking and notification devices that take advantage of the latest networking and communications technologies. Among these is the MineSafe Smartwatch, which essentially distills and implements a number of fleet-management concepts and functionality down to the workforce level.

The MineSafe Smartwatch, developed by wearable-technology specialist Vandrico in collaboration with the SAP Co-Innovation Lab and Illumiti, enables real-time communication between underground or surface workers and dispatchers or supervisory personnel. Using data and analysis software, mining companies can quickly identify and predict potential hazards, notify employees of dangerous situations, identify worker locations in an emergency, and provide safety guidance to workers in an automated fashion.

“Our watch leverages Wi-Fi and sensors in the mine to provide mine workers with greater situational awareness, facilitate communications and accelerate evacuations,” said Lorraine Howell, vice president of R&D for Illumiti, a SAP systems integrator. “Using our worker tracking feature, the mining company can quickly identify the location of each miner in real time from the surface during an emergency, enabling safety teams to quickly locate missing team members. Localized evacuation messages can also be sent based on worker location in the mine.”

The MineSafe system is claimed to integrate with most mine-specific enterprise systems, including SCADA, MQTT and others. The solution can also be integrated with any existing mine sensors, or configured to suit the needs of a mining company.

As the use—and necessary documentation—of both conventional and newer, high-tech articles of personal protection equipment (PPE) becomes more prevalent, the mining industry will likely need help from technologies that allow companies to reduce or avoid the time-consuming manual recordkeeping involved with issuance, maintenance and inspections of PPE. According to a recent study by 3M, most safety and health professionals still use pen and paper, word processors or spreadsheets to manually document safety programs. To help reduce paperwork and time spent on documentation and compliance tasks, 3M has developed Active Safety, a PPE management system.

3M’s Active Safety system uses RFID tags and cloudbased software to help EHS departments reduce paperwork associated with PPE recordkeeping.Hugh Murphy, business development manager for Active Safety at 3M, said, “Active Safety is a simple software tool to help EHS professionals reduce the time they spend on paperwork; access data when and where they need it; identify trends and ultimately help employers keep workers safe and healthy.”

Active Safety uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and cloud-based software that runs on both mobile and desktop devices. To deploy Active Safety, EHS professionals add each piece of PPE onto the platform. An RFID tag is attached to each piece, and a user scans that RFID tag with a mobile device to record PPE history, usage, and location. The EHS professional can also schedule upcoming events, such as worker inspections and fit testing, and can access data from their PPE program on a simple dashboard.

By gathering PPE data from across a facility or multiple sites, Active Safety allows EHS professionals to connect with their employees and focus on improving safety, rather than completing paperwork.

Additional features of Active Safety can include worker-specific PPE record management, inspections and maintenance, PPE audits, inventory management and trackers for employee training, medical evaluations and fit-testing. Active Safety is configurable to fit unique safety program needs, and can be used with existing PPE.

3M said it has been working with leading customers to develop Active Safety and now has worksites, including mining, on several continents connected to the platform.

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