When it comes to mine safety, South Africa faces greater challenges than most countries. It’s home to eight of the world’s 10 deepest underground mines. Some of those operations have been mined commercially for over a century, compelling miners ever-deeper in ageing shafts to reach additional ore. Deep-level gold mines are particularly vulnerable to seismic activity and fall-of-ground incidents.
South Africa has responded with some of the most proactive safety legislation in the world. In 2003, employers, labor unions and government agreed to pursue a target of ‘zero-harm’ for all employees. A recent rise in mine-related fatalities though has raised doubts about whether zero-harm is a realistic goal.
According to South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources, (DMR) 58 people have died in the country’s mining industry this year. Fifty-one people died in all of 2017, which also saw an increase over 2016 fatality figures. However, statistics tell only half of the story. Most of the stakeholders still committed to zero-harm are old enough to remember 1995, when mine fatalities topped 500.
Hexagon believes it has a role to play in helping any mine improve its safety and productivity. The company is particularly active in South Africa. Our vehicle intervention system, developed in partnership with AngloAmerican Kumba Iron Ore, is unique. It takes control of a machine in certain situations if the operator does not react appropriately to a collision avoidance warning. Depending on the situation, VIS can automatically cut the propulsion, apply the retarder or even activate the service brakes.
Next summer, DMR rules will compel all South African mines to equip trackless mobile machines with such a system.
In August, Hexagon renewed its partnership with Johannesburg-based Trysome to resell our broad range of integrated life-of-mine solutions across sub-Saharan Africa. In the same month, Hexagon acquired Tucson, Arizona-based Guardvant. Guardvant specializes in advanced technologies that detect operator fatigue and distraction, helping mines to improve operator performance, create a more productive work environment, and protect assets.
The acquisition strengthens an already comprehensive safety portfolio. Collision avoidance, fatigue monitoring, vehicle intervention, personal protection and slope stability monitoring above and below ground make up Hexagon’s MineProtect portfolio. The recent integration of our collision avoidance system and our fleet management system is just one example of how these solutions are combining to declutter cabs, streamline workflows, and improve safety.
Hexagon’s commitment to safety comes from the top down. “There’s nothing more powerful than knowing that our technology truly is saving people’s lives,” said Mining Division President, Josh Weiss in a recent video.
So, before we outline these solutions in more detail, consider one last quote about the only statistic that really matters when it comes to mine safety.
“One death is a death too many.”
- Livhuwani Mammburu, National Union of Mineworkers, South Africa
Reliable mine surveying and monitoring
HYDRA-U is a high-resolution radar system for early warning and real-time monitoring of ground-fall hazards in underground mines. The system’s creator, IDS GeoRadar, is part of Hexagon and a leader in solutions for slope monitoring, underground safety and stability monitoring.
Above ground, IDS GeoRadar’s IBIS line of solutions harnesses interferometric radar technology to support mining staff responsible for managing geotechnical risks. The ability to rapidly measure slope movements with sub-millimeter accuracy over large areas has allowed mines to avert mine slope failures thanks to real-time alerts.
Complementing these solutions are Hexagon’s automated motorized total stations and GNSS solutions. Such technology has proved pivotal to risk management in mining high walls, tailings dams, and other critical structures. Leica GeoMos can combine any geotechnical, meteorological, hydrological or other sensors into its analysis and dashboard platform, correlating all pertinent data into one location.
Proven collision avoidance for the mining industry
HxGN MineProtect Collision Avoidance System (CAS) gives vehicle operators 360-degree proximity detection at any speed and in all conditions via unobtrusive cabin display units. For operators, CAS represents peace of mind. It helps them work more confidently and productively, especially in poor visibility caused by rain, snow, and fog. It also helps at night when the system becomes invaluable, helping drivers to work more smoothly and efficiently.
The system is used in more than 30,000 vehicles and in over 60 mines worldwide. Hexagon now embeds CAS into its fleet management system: one solution that allows heavy and light vehicles to be seen and heard, no matter their location in a mine. The integration means an improved user experience, greater oversight for dispatchers, and quicker communication of vital safety and operations data.
Besides mitigating accidents and avoiding costly downtime for repairs, CAS delivers more profound benefits.
“I was driving along in a light vehicle and came to an intersection, looked both ways, didn’t see anything, so I started to accelerate,” recalls Martin Leggat, a mine surveyor for New Hope Group’s Acland Mine in Queensland, Australia. “Then CAS went off and alerted me that a vehicle was coming and within a second there was a big 793 dump truck coming down on me. The system basically saved me.”
Mines using CAS report a reduction in collisions. The Premier Mine in Western Australia, for instance, reported a 53% reduction in metal-to-metal contacts within the year following implementation of CAS.
Another large mining company in Australia reported its results at the 2014 Queensland Mining Industry Health & Safety Conference. In the 12 months that preceded CAS implementation, the mine experienced 14 machine-to-machine incidents. After CAS was implemented, there were only two incidents during the next two years. The first involved a rented dozer that was not fitted with CAS, thus, the other vehicle was not able to detect this dozer. In the second incident, the system alerted the operator but he failed to take evasive action.
Mines can use this data and the improved safety record to negotiate lower insurance premiums, further reducing cost. A major mine in South America showed that 98% of its 521 operators believed that CAS is a useful tool for keeping them and their colleagues safe. Further, 97% say that the information presented by CAS is sufficient and easy to interpret.
Effective fatigue monitoring for mines
Operator fatigue is another leading cause of incidents in the mine. Heavy machinery, monotonous work, and long hours heighten the dangers of fatigue. Operators are often unaware of critical situations, so help detecting fatigue levels is essential to mitigate the associated risks.
HxGN MineProtect Fatigue Monitor is fully integrated with CAS and uses proven computer vision technology to monitor operators unobtrusively while driving. While most preventive systems and wearables are limited to fatigue, computer vision also identifies operator distraction and can therefore help to keep attention on the road. Hexagon acquired Guardvant in August for its expertise in detecting operator fatigue and distraction. Guardvant currently equips almost 5,000 mining vehicles with fatigue and awareness detection technology.
Part of the fatigue prevention strategy lies in the provision of individual fatigue risk for every operator. This challenging task is approached by using as many available parameters as possible. To estimate fatigue risk levels the output of the computer vision is of course one factor. But it also accounts for individual driving hours on the truck, breaks, number of consecutive shifts, preceding shift changes or time of day, etc. This is what we call a multi-factorial approach.
Camera systems are truck-based and need not be customized for each operator, which is a major advantage considering spare part management and administration. All computer vision-based systems work in the near-infrared range, regardless of lighting conditions (day/night). This wavelength penetrates many standard sun glasses that are otherwise completely dark in the visual range.
Once an incident is identified, the system issues a unique in-cabin alert. A blinking warning sign on the FatigueMonitor status display informs the potentially disoriented driver in parallel. Simultaneously, the corresponding image sequence is sent to the control room for review. Video review not only helps to trigger the mine’s fatigue procedures but it can also be used for training and prevention by reviewing the videos with the operator after the shift.
The combination of a fatigue and distraction monitoring system with the collision avoidance system is unique and powerful. Highest loss accidents typically involve two heavy vehicles or one heavy and one light vehicle. The dangers are even more imminent in surrounding traffic, which is exactly when CAS takes care of the vehicle to vehicle interaction and alarms accordingly while FatigueMonitor looks inside the cabin. Both risks are mitigated with the same system; two layers of safety in one display on a single unit, meaning less hardware in the cabin.
Vehicle intervention – mining’s first and last resort
HxGN MineProtect Vehicle Intervention System (VIS) takes control of a machine in certain situations if the operator does not react appropriately to a CAS warning. Depending on the situation, VIS can automatically cut the propulsion, apply the retarder or even activate the service brakes.
Sishen mine operated by AngloAmerican Kumba Iron Ore contacted Hexagon Mining about a system in 2014. The mine had conducted an extensive risk assessment of its operation to understand major risks. Together with the customer Hexagon Mining defined a step-by-step approach to develop a solution.
The partnership and the solution it created was celebrated in January when readers of Mining Magazine honored Hexagon and Kumba Iron Ore with its 2017 Safety Award.
VIS is integrated with CAS and uses the same sensors and user interface, thus protecting the customer’s initial investment. It’s one more step in the trend towards human-assist products.
Personal protection in the mine
HxGN MineProtect Personal Alert responds to calls from the industry for improved protection of mine personnel working on foot. Mines are busy, noisy, and dangerous places. Collisions involving equipment and people are a perennial concern for all mining operations. Truck-based safety systems, such as radars, warn drivers of potential collisions, but before Personal Alert, they did not acknowledge or alert people on the ground.
Personal Alert is a small accident-avoidance device worn by field personnel. Using Time of Flight technology in the Ultra-Wide Band frequency, it communicates with a system of detectors anchored to vehicles equipped with CAS. Anyone working around heavy machinery will now be visible using Personal Alert. Operators will “see” anyone within 50 meters of their vehicle, thus eliminating blind spots.
Personal Alert adds a powerful layer of protection to our safety suite. It’s based on the same proven approach of CAS: three safety zones employing highly intuitive ascending alarms.
Mine safety first and last
Hexagon is committed to integrating its wide technology portfolio to deliver a holistic view of a mine, bringing with it benefits for both safety and productivity. The most important asset coming out of a mine at the end of a shift isn’t what’s extracted – it’s the people who make it possible.
People are a mine’s most precious resource. Securing their safety amidst heavy traffic, large equipment, and poor visibility is challenging. For all mines, accommodating the pressure for productivity with the need for safety is a fine balance. But Hexagon believes safety solutions that put people first need not be at the expense of efficiency and results. In fact, money spent on safety is the most solid investment a mine can make.