Moves towards zero harm mining world taking shape thanks to rapid advances in connected worker tech

4th April 2023


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By Anton Fester Director, Sedna Industrial IT Solutions

The recent tragic death of a miner in a rigging-related incident in the Free State in South Africa highlights the ongoing need for enhanced safety to ensure these tragedies are rooted out before they affect lives and families. They also come at substantial cost to businesses and the economy.

Mining and heavy duty industry fatalities are, of course, a reality all over the world and it would be naïve to think it can be wished away overnight, especially in industries where risks are higher than those pushing paper, for instance. But the advent of serious technological advances are changing the picture and shifting the needle to a world where these occurrences become the exception, rather than the norm.

When we recently celebrated a fatality-free January, my biggest wish was for this to continue for many more months. However, there is nothing stopping us repeating these successes with a broader rollout of innovative, smart digital solutions, which continue to evolve. 

The biggest problem at the moment, however, is there are very few solutions that offer an integrated approach which allows the marrying of best of breed solutions – this is where we need to get, and fast. Another problem is complacency and the key now is for companies to get a move on and harness better tech for the safety of workers. A little bit of competition will go a long way to ensure entire sectors work harder and faster at adopting safe digital solutions.

A seminal study by Deloitte, “On the road to zero harm”, says conditions are now in place to move the dial toward a goal of zero harm through the use of predictive analytics and wearables. The tech making waves right now include an array of hard hats, watches, clothing, eyeglasses, and more, designed to deliver various benefits—from collision avoidance and environmental monitoring to fatigue management and personal injury reduction.

In doing so, however, companies will likely need to integrate different data pools and systems, while more proactively driving industry collaboration. And the report is quite right to note that if this does not happen, we may still be highlighting the potential for improvement a few years from now, without having seen much progress.

Sedna Industrial IT Solutions has made strides on the integration through an alliance with Guard Hat, which helps us move away from becoming a hardware ecosystem and a platform provider to becoming a platform integrator. This model essentially give specialists the space to do their thing -  they can manage their development cycle and other elements – as long as the system delivers the best solution. I recently travelled to Silicon Valley to look for other specialists in safety to partner with in a symbiosis where we add the connectivity layer and integrate it to the safety system, tailored to specific industry needs, for a powerful, collaborative answer to managing risk.

We want to operate in any industries that require a hard hat, safety glasses and risk assessments in operational areas. The future will truly be an integration of platforms where you integrate all hardware components (video, voip mechanism, environmental monitoring and location services like geofencing) into a hazardous environment. 

It continues to amaze me that connected worker functionality can be achieved with something the size of a cigarette box – a device that sits in a pocket, connects to a network, other devices like a gas monitor that would in turn connect with an integration hub (IoT hub which connects to the network). You can then add a bioband around the arm, which also connects to the device and network. That is true integration in action, but with outsized benefits in terms of safety, efficiency and operational excellence. Simply put, quite apart from injuries or tragedies, there is no business out there that can afford downtime caused by safety-related emergencies and shutdowns. 

This technology knows no bounds as, it can for instance, be used to geolocate and track workers to such a degree that you will know when someone not trained on a certain machine has approached and is within three metres of it. It is also great at tagging visitors to make sure they remain in designated areas. With adverse weather events on the rise, you can even assimilate data to issue warnings that can save lives, for instance should a dam wall collapse or provides time to get masks and other equipment in the event of a gas leak. In fact, AI will be a force for good in this space as a guardian of safety as it will advance to such an extent it will help pre-empt certain events that could or are likely to take place, before they happen.

There are already increasingly better solutions to enable a lone worker who, a few kilometres underground, can be tracked, checked, and kept safe. These systems may even have algorithms to detect physical stress and fatigue by monitoring core body temperature of workers and heart rates. We are not far off from seeing solutions such as vibration detection to pre-empt any possible weaknesses in underground structures, detect abnormal seismic activity and prevent dreaded fall of ground incidents well before anything happens. These sensory networks will run through mines like veins in a body, creating an entire view of what’s happening in and around production areas.

The proliferation of private wireless networks will in turn drive greater advances in automation, enabling greater productivity and efficiency on sites and in factories.

Sedna installed Africa’s first licensed spectrum LTE private wireless network in South Africa. We also deployed Africa’s first underground leaky feeder licensed spectrum LTE private wireless.

Partnerships with Nokia and Globalstar continue to provide opportunities for growth, access and an ability to extend the reach of these solutions to more people.

All of this is leading to a sea change in the connected worker and safety space. Let's join together and join forces as we work towards a working world with zero harm.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter




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