While great strides have been taken to improve operator safety in recent years, with new collision awareness systems likely to improve this trend, technology alone should not be a mine’s only line of defence in the goal to avoid vehicle collisions, says mine management solutions provider Modular Mining Systems (Modular Mining) marketing communications specialist Alyssa Wedler.
Instead, she avers that sufficient training and operators that are fit for the job are also required for mines worldwide to reach their target of a zero- incident workplace, and total mine-site safety.
Vehicle-to-vehicle collisions are among the top five causes of high-risk incidents in mines, resulting in equipment downtime, productivity losses, equipment- and personnel-related costs, injuries, and fatalities. These factors have driven a global motivation to focus on vehicle safety within mines, including increased regulation and legislation that will soon require mining organisations to have a safety system that can detect vehicle collisions, indicates Wedler.
Wedler notes that several collision awareness systems are currently available to the mining industry, all seeking to improve opera- tor safety. Despite this, many challenges still commonly exist that prevent these systems from ensuring a collision-free environment.
She highlights that the challenge that seem the most prevalent in today’s collision awareness systems lies in the frequency of “false positives” – alarms that occur when no collision threat is actually present. These false alarms, also known as “nuisance alarms”, often desensitise operators to actual collision risks, thereby, in a sense, training them to adopt unsafe practices as a result of alarm annoyance. As operators realise the number and frequency of nuisance alarms, they begin to tune out all alarms. These false positives are widespread, and pose a dangerous challenge for collision awareness systems in the mining industry, warns Wedler.
Reducing False Alarms
Modular Mining’s approach to collision awareness focuses on reducing false alarms while providing real-time information about potential high-risk incidents. The company’s MineAlert Collision Awareness System uses intelligent path prediction and scenario-based pattern recognition algorithms to filter out the potential non-risk-based nuisance and proximity based alarms, helping to dramatically reduce the false alarm rate.
This intelligence filtering capacity, coupled with a simple user interface and near-instant peer-to-peer communication through a dedicated safety channel, enables operators to make split-second decisions, and increases their situational awareness by providing critical information only when it matters.
Wedler indicates that one of the major challenges for collision awareness systems is the ability to predict a driver’s actual, near-term direction. Many systems on the market today use range and proximity sensors that alert operators when two vehicles are approaching each other, but a system that considers proximity, speed, and bearing alone will often alarm in normal operating conditions, even though no collision risk is imminent, such as when two trucks merely pass each other in opposite lanes.
Wedler says that some systems on the market today, including those of Modular Mining, leverage path prediction technology, enabling them to accurately differentiate vehicles travelling in different lanes and also determine that their paths are not likely to intersect, which acts as another filter against false alarms and provides a more trustworthy warning when an alert is issued. The path prediction algorithm works with collision scenario recognition to provide a strong filtering mechanism that alerts operators only when true risk exists.
Wedler says that, regardless of a collision awareness systems’ ability to filter out false alarms and quickly communicate potential risks, to create a truly safe working environment, mines instead need to look at safety as a mine-wide practice, and a collision awareness system should simply complement and reinforce this established practice.
She notes that the first step towards a safe mine starts with an individual’s competency, ability and performance, which is mainly discernible if an individual is properly trained for the job, if an individual has the competency and ability that matches the job function they have to perform, and if an individual’s performance is capable of being tracked over time.
She posits that proper operator training is an invaluable first step to site-wide mine safety. Additionally, implementing a fleet management system capable of tracking operator key performance indicators over time can help mines identify areas for operator improvement, with some systems even allowing for mines/employers to prevent operator login if an employee’s ID is not registered as “qualified” for a specific piece of equipment.
After an individual has been thoroughly trained and cleared for competence, the mines should assess his/her fitness for duty, as even the best operators that are fatigued or under the influence of drugs or alcohol pose a potentially catastrophic safety risk to themselves and others in the mines. Using a fleet management system can reinforce a mine’s demand for fit-for-duty operators by interfacing with leading fatigue-management software to better identify an operator’s declining awareness before it results in collision. This also increases an operator’s awareness of his/her own fatigue level.
Wedler also highlights situational awareness as one of the most important components of mine safety. A safe operator must be aware of everything around them, which can be tricky in a dynamic mine environment. Even a well-qualified, fit operator cannot avoid unknown risk, and should never rely primarily on technology to do so. She says that the ultimate goal of an intelligent collision awareness system is to increase operators’ situational awareness, empowering them to make their own informed decisions to mitigate vehicle collisions. This should be facilitated through the system’s display unit being simple, with easy-to-identify symbols, and alerting operators only when necessary.
Lastly, she emphasises that mine equipment itself must be safe for operation. Advanced equipment monitoring tools can monitor an entire fleet in real time, allowing for maintenance personnel to identify and address potential issues before they become “expensive, dangerous catastrophes”.
“A safe mine is not determined by the best technology, the best operators, the best equipment. True mine safety is a complex combination of all these components, and more,” Wedler concludes.