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Sensors are vital in many industries as a way of monitoring certain environments. Monitoring can be carried out for many reasons, including to ensure a process is running optimally, to check if a component is likely to break down, to see if there are anomalies occurring in a process, and to check whether a process or operation is acting in a safe manner. Given the number of potential accidents possible within mining operations, sensors are a vital part of keeping the workers and surrounding areas safe and can be used in many ways to prevent accidents. In this article, we look at how sensors are utilized to prevent accidents in the mining industry.
Sensors continuously monitor many aspects of a mining operation, from where the vehicles and equipment are located, to the pollutants that are given off, to extremely dangerous situations where there is the potential for gas explosions.
Data approaches in mines has increased over the years and many mines now employ continuous monitoring approaches, as well as regular inspections. However, because continuous monitoring is more effective for predicting when there is going to be an issue, as well as for when something unexpected happens, sensors have become a way of providing an extra level of safety compared to when only physical inspections took place.
These sensors need to also be inspected regularly, especially given the harsh environmental conditions they are subjected to, in order to be effective and accurate for long periods of time. Below, we look at a few of the key areas where sensors play a role in preventing accidents. In time, it is thought that all mines will switch to a completely automated monitoring environment, in which workers are safer and potential issues are spotted before they occur. As it stands, some monitoring tasks still need to be performed through human input.
Methane Gas Explosions and Other Gases
The build-up of gas in a mine can lead to a catastrophic event, with the build-up of methane being one of the most dangerous. Sensors can be employed to check the levels of methane gas in a single area throughout the mine to see if any dangerous levels are building up. It’s important to monitor methane with sensors, as it both odorless and colorless, and can very difficult to detect using the human senses (unlike other types of gas).
While a methane build-up or continuous leak from a coal seam can lead to an explosion, there are also a variety of other gases in a mine that can cause harm to humans. These gases include carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen chloride which can cause harm to the workers if inhaled in sufficient quantities (which are not very high concentrations).
Sensors can also be used to detect whether workers are being exposed to toxic levels of these gases as well. In most situations, be it for methane or otherwise, workers are fitted with sensors so that the environment around their specific locale can be monitored. This is in addition to the machinery, which is also fitted with sensors.
Given the nature of mining operations, and the amount of rock that is crushed, broken and exploded, the build-up of dust presents a significant hazard to the human respiratory system if inhaled—especially when the dust contains various inorganic particles of a micro/nanoscopic nature that can penetrate the lungs.
Handheld/portable sensors are often employed in mines to detect the levels of dust in the occupational environment, determining whether it poses a hazard to the workforce performing the tasks in each environment. Measures can then be put in place to reduce the amount of dust to levels which are not hazardous.
One of the most common causes of accidents in a mining environment is the collision of vehicles or equipment. This is the case for both open pit and underground mines. To avoid collisions from occurring, vehicles and heavy-duty equipment are fitted with proximity sensors to sense and warn the operators (audibly and visually) when a collision is imminent. This enables the operators to prevent collisions from happening, thus reducing one of the biggest classes of accidents in a working mine environment.
Personnel Fatigue Monitoring
This may not seem like the most obvious accident prevention area, but ensuring that the workers are not too tired when operating heavy machinery is also an effective way of preventing accidents. Workers can now be fitted with tracker devices that monitor the fatigue and distraction of a driver when operating heavy machinery and vehicles and can deduce whether the worker is acting in a safe enough manner to continue performing the task at hand.
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