Spreading the Safety Net

Thanks to improved technology and the Web, the industry has increased access to new techniques for planning, presenting and enforcing safety training—and it’s using all of them

By Russell A. Carter, Managing Editor

It’s fairly hard to argue against the proposition that the world’s leading mining companies and mine-equipment manufacturers have embraced safety—for their employees, contractors, products and customers—as a foundation block of their business strategies. For example, data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) show that mine fatalities in the United States during 2008 fell to an all-time low, registering a 31% drop from 2007. Metal/nonmetal mines achieved the lowest level of fatalities in that sector of mining since statistics were first recorded in 1910, and the fatality level in coal mines was the lowest recorded number since 2005. Globally, major mine operators such as Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and others have established company-wide, comprehensive safety programs and manufacturers are focusing more closely than ever on minimizing the risk of injury from using or repairing their machinery.

The increased emphasis on safety is not yet an across-the-board success story. In the U.S., past safety results do not necessarily guarantee future performance. An estimated 3,200 workers died as a result of various mine-related accidents during 2008 in China alone, and South African mine deaths increased for the first time in six years in 2008. The constantly changing nature of the industry, with more underground operations, larger and faster equipment and fewer experienced workers, makes safety improvement somewhat of a moving target.

In a technology-intensive industry such as mining, safety concerns and progress have traditionally centered around improvements in science and engineering—and that trend will undoubtedly continue. However, the industry’s increased presence in developing countries and remote locations, coupled with significant changes in the workforce—age, experience, language and cultural diversity—have shifted considerable attention to the topic of human factors, encompassing on-the-job training as well as lifestyle modifications and constant risk awareness.

The industry’s globalization has made cultural differences, in particular, a major challenge in achieving safety objectives. Traditional attitudes have tended to categorize workers in certain regions as less safety-conscious than others, sometimes resulting in a “what’s-the-use” sense of futility that prevents companies from developing their workers’ full potential. To shed more light on this topic, E&MJ asked Carmen Bianco, an executive consultant with BST, a global safety consulting firm based in Ojai, California, to address the topic in the accompanying article (see A New Kind of Globalization, p. 47.)

Apart from corporate conscience and social responsibility concerns, the increased emphasis on safety also has a role in bottom-line performance. As noted by the authors of a 2008 report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers titled Improving Safety Performance in the Australian Mining Industry Through Enhanced Reporting, “…companies with strong safety records may increase their access to external capital, as investors frequently consider past safety performance when making resource-allocation decisions. Top performers can also benefit from reduced costs in such areas as litigation, insurance, accident damages and production delays. While these costs can be considerable, the long-term financial implications of a tarnished reputation are often more severe, in terms of lost sales and reduced share prices.”

Web Surfing for Safety

For equipment manufacturers, the ubiquitous presence of the Internet and technological advances in simulation-training software and hardware have opened new avenues for reaching end users of their products. At MINExpo 2008, more than 50 companies listed themselves as sources for training, offering methods ranging from “webinars” and tailored Web-based development courses to on-site instruction by live instructors or self-paced study-at-home programs. Some have adopted multiple methods for reaching their audience; Caterpillar, for example, announced at the show that it was offering new e-learning opportunities, as well as instructor-led simulator-based, classroom and in-the-iron programs.

Caterpillar’s e-learning curriculum offers tips and techniques on safety, machine inspection and operation, and takes advantage of a new type of learning environment―a personal classroom that is created when workers log onto a Web site, load a DVD or join an instructor-led virtual class. Cat’s Virtual Training System uses PC-based simulators for its hydraulic excavators, motor graders, off-highway trucks, wheel loaders and wheel tractor scrapers. As with all simulator courses, they are free from limitations arising from equipment/site availability or weather conditions, and trainee performance can be tracked and retained.

As mentioned in last month’s issue of E&MJ, Bucyrus International, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA-based manufacturer of mining shovels, draglines and rotary drills, announced that it is introducing several new training products and services in 2009. These include simulator training using the company’s recently developed VAST (Value Added Simulation Training) PC-based shovel simulator; computer-based training modules, soon to be available via the Web; plus instructor-led classes held in regional locations, at Bucyrus’ new training center in Milwaukee, or on-site at a customer’s operation.

In addition to OEM-based training, there are numerous custom-design training and software businesses which cater to a wide range of industrial sectors that include mining and mineral processing. Mine operators can turn to these enterprises for instructional materials tailored to a company’s specific requirements. Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Utah Copper operation, for example, has used video courses from Framework Solutions, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based firm, that educate employees on topics ranging from driver education and safety to better understanding of the thermal stresses that work in a mine or plant can impose on them.

Recently, Barrick Gold took delivery of a set of Web-based driver safety lessons from Framework Solutions that include more than five hours of driver training content in both Spanish and English. The courses will be used by Barrick mobile equipment operators worldwide. A separate family version of the course was also developed for drivers in families of Barrick employees. The courses include student self-paced as well as instructor-facilitated versions. Five general lesson topics cover defensive driving, risk factors, impaired driving, safety practices, and managing hazards.

Simulation Soars

Financial pressures, workforce diversity and an ever-increasing need for higher worker and machine productivity are some of the factors that have been driving the mining’s industry’s growing interest in simulator-based training, even during the current economic slump. Immersive Technologies, a Perth, Australia-based supplier of operator training simulators, recently doubled the size of its Australian production facility to meet growing demand for its simulators. The company currently has more than 450 of its simulator modules at installations in 25 countries, and as this issue of E&MJ went to press Immersive announced that it will supplying Brazilian mega-miner Vale with three of its Advanced Equipment (AE) Simulators, which are expected to be commissioned on site at the end of May 2009. The training simulators will support the Caterpillar 793D haul truck, Caterpillar 992G wheel loader, and Hitachi EX5500 shovel/excavator models employed at the company’s new Moatize coal mine in Mozambique. Immersive Technologies is also supplying a Custom Mine Site, which accurately replicates the Moatize mine to enhance the realism and value of the training.

A number of OEMs have developed simulators for their own equipment ranging from drills to dozers. Caterpillar has marketed its Virtual Training System for several years. Sandvik now offers a modular curriculum and simulator training for its recently introduced DPi series of surface top hammer drills. Atlas Copco provides simulator training for its underground jumbo drill rigs developed by Simlog, based in Montreal, Quebec, which also offers PC-based simulator systems for haul trucks and wheel loaders.

Just recently, working with Oryx Simulations, Volvo launched three simulators that allow wheel loader, articulated hauler and excavator operators to practice routine worksite scenarios in a safe environment. The virtual scenarios are developed and tailored according to the needs of the customer and operator and can also provide an exact graphical replica, if desired, of a customer’s actual working environment, while normal vehicle characteristics such as hydraulic power, engine sound and jolts from rough ground are reproduced by the simulator.

Volvo said its research shows that an operator learns significantly more in the early stages using a simulator than on a real machine. Very specific data is logged during each training session, which can then be used to evaluate the progress of the operators as they move up to higher levels of accomplishment. Each training session logs information such as volume per hour, fuel consumption, tire wear, driving distance, collisions with objects etc.

The Volvo wheel loader, articulated hauler and excavator simulators are the first of a planned series of training and educational equipment for Volvo Construction Equipment machines, and are available to buy or hire.

Simulator training isn’t confined just to mobile equipment. Before Rio Tinto Alcan Gove completed a $3-billion expansion of its alumina refinery in Australia’s Northern Territory, nearly doubling alumina production when the project was completed in 2008, it turned to Honeywell’s UniSim simulation technology for testing and training. A UniSim simulator was assembled and connected to RTA Gove’s distributed control system (DCS) to mitigate startup risk by training operators and testing the control system configuration prior to plant commissioning. Through the use of UniSim—which comprises a suite of process design and optimization products and services—Alcan said it had been able to train operators in advance without adversely affecting plant operations, carry out comprehensive code testing before transferring data to the site, and create and validate operating procedures.

Seeing it from Both Sides

One well-known company that is in a unique position to observe, evaluate and incorporate product and operator safety features into its equipment is Boart Longyear, which both manufactures exploration drill rigs and drilling tools—rods, bits and accessories—and operates a global drilling services business that performs reverse circulation, sonic, percussive, underground and surface coring jobs using the products it makes.

With the introduction of its latest rig, the 4200 surface drill, at MINExpo 2008 Boart Longyear exhibited some significant advances in drill rig safety, including what it claims is the safest and most flexible rod management system in the rig’s class, incorporating a hands-free rod handling system comprising a rod handler, an auto-adjusting breakout tool and an innovative hoist plug spinner. The 4200 also introduced an open-face mast design that encloses rotating parts within the mast—such as the drill head and breakout tool—and applies unified guarding at the operator’s level for increased worker safety.

At the drill’s introductory press conference, Craig Mayman, Boart Longyear’s global product manager for capital equipment, noted that the 4200 “provides solutions to many difficult issues that have long plagued drill operators” and acknowledged that feedback from its global drilling services teams had provided critical design input.

In a recent interview with E&MJ, Boart Longyear’s marketing and communications manager, James Burriss, responded to questions about the importance of safety input in the product design process; and Jeff Marrott, manager for EHS North America/Global Training, explained how the company is building a strong safety program for its widely scattered drilling services operations.

Burriss explained that the company bases “all of our product development on real world customer feedback which includes safety and productivity goals as well as challenges. Once we understand what our customers are facing, our global product management and engineering teams pull together to create a solution. Unique to Boart Longyear, is our ability to execute pre-release new product testing within our drilling services organization. As the largest exploration drilling contractor in the world, we can test in nearly any target environment–from Laos to Northern Canada. If a pre-release productivity or safety issue arises, we can overcome it well before commercial release. This has allowed us to release some of the safest, reliable and productive drilling products in the industry.

“As we progress through the product development process, we take in all of the pre-release testing data and use it to develop safety and usage guidelines. Safe practices protect the driller and ensure the most productive and reliable operation of our products. Our drilling consumables, tools and capital equipment are all designed to operate most efficiently when used in compliance with our safety and operating guidelines.

Burriss said Boart Longyear “relies heavily on customer relationships to develop and improve our safety and usage guidelines as well as product orientation. We are also looking at new ways to distribute end-user orientation programs on the Web and on the ground.”

Marrott joined the company in 2007 and has been orchestrating a multi-faceted effort to develop standardized, measurable training practices that meet the demands of management and customers. “We’ve taken the internal attitude that every accident is preventable, and we’ve also had to respond to increasingly sophisticated business partners and clients who say, in effect, ‘we expect this or that from you’ in safety related matters.

“When we began this effort, we had to learn to crawl before we could walk, and walk before we could run. We had to develop a set of policies and criteria that would let our employees know ‘this is the way we’re going to operate from now on.’ This represented quite a change in the drilling industry. Mining companies had started this practice five or ten years ago, but it was a new development in the drilling services sector.

“Once we established a basic set of work rules and policies, we had to develop methods to persuade employees to accept accountability for their actions and know what consequences—good and bad—they could expect. The next step is to identify approaches to build and sustain a safety culture throughout the workforce. I’d say we’re about at the midpoint of our efforts right now. We’ve established the culture and now we’re working on a number of initiatives that should allow us to sustain that culture.”

The training tools that Boart Longyear has developed range from the basics—developing and making sure a rig safety manual is included and accessible for each machine; providing driver and environmental-protection training, etc.—to employee advancement programs that include new-hire identification and orientation to make their first months on the job safer, along with driller certification programs and establishment of clearly defined career paths.

At the technological end of the training spectrum, Boart has developed a Web-based incident/accident tracking and reporting database that is accessible to anyone in a leadership capacity within the company, in any of the 40 countries in which it does business. This database and reporting system is an integral cog in the overall development of training and safety programs, Marrott said. “We found it relatively easy to identify ‘lagging indicators’ regarding safety that gave us a performance report card after the fact. What we wanted was a system that gives us a set of leading indicators to show how our safety and training program is working. With the tracking and reporting database, we can identify trends and take measures to prevent similar accidents or incidents from taking place in the future.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the company has developed job performance animations—basically cartoons—to overcome language barriers throughout its global operations. “These animations show a set of job duties, how to accomplish them on a step-by-step basis, and the consequences of doing it wrong,” Marrott explained. “With this approach, everybody in a class can grasp the concept, even if you’re dealing with multiple languages within the group.”

The company develops about half of its training materials in-house, with the rest coming from outside vendors. “We buy a lot of content from external vendors, we customize a lot of programs from these vendors, and the rest we do in-house,” said Marrott. “As part of the company’s commitment to safety, it has established training teams that operate in each of the regions in which we do business. Their function is to develop appropriate training materials, present them and measure their effect.

“Our overall goal is to use all of these training tools to take us from best-in-class in our industry to world class in safety performance,” he concluded.