Editorial Feature

Recent Advances in Mining Safety and Worker Protection

Advances in technology and working practices over the last few decades have made mining much safer. However, improvements are still needed to ensure that mines are zero-harm environments. This article will discuss recent advances in mine safety and how the industry can further improve.

mining safety

Image Credit: Rob Bayer/Shutterstock.com

How Safe are Mines?

Mining is a key economic activity, but one fraught with issues around miner safety. While significant improvements have been made over the decades, fatalities arising from incidents such as cave-ins have highlighted how far the industry has to go.

For example, 28 mine workers were recently trapped in an underground collapse at Mount Clear gold mine in Australia, with one 37-year-old sadly losing their life. Workers were manually drilling at the mine in conditions they should not have been exposed to, with some experts suggesting that work was being carried out on unsupported, unsafe ground.1

Another incident in February 2024 saw a landslide at Copler mine in Türkiye, one of the nation’s largest gold mines, depositing 10 million cubic meters of Earth and trapping several workers. Tragically, the US Labor Department estimated that 42 miners died in the US, a troubling 31% year-on-year rise.1

Aside from the ever-present possibility of accidents such as cave-ins, landslides, and longwall collapses, mines are highly dynamic and dangerous environments to work in. They have multiple assets, such as workers, vehicles, plant equipment, and infrastructure elements. Without proper safety protocols in place, fatal or debilitating accidents can quickly occur.

Aside from the tragic loss of human life, accidents can severely impact the economic viability of mines, which is problematic in an industry with traditionally ultra-tight margins. Therefore, improving safety and protecting the lives of miners and safety of equipment is also a key economic concern for mining companies. Improving mine safety is a multi-dimensional issue.

The Road to Zero-Harm

Recent technological advances and changing working practices promise to make the future mine a much safer working environment, driving the number of fatal accidents and injuries down to near-zero levels.

COVID-19 highlighted the importance of safety for everyone, with lessons learned and relevant working attitudes filtering out into wider society and industry during the pandemic. It can be said that the mining industry is now in a better place than ever to move the dial toward “zero harm.”

One of the main trends in mining has been toward a more automated working environment. Robotic equipment and vehicles are replacing workers in mines, removing them from harm. This practice has led to historically low numbers of human workers in mines while safeguarding productivity and profitability.

Wearable tech helps track workers and assets, and integrated telematics and GPS technologies and systems can work with sensors onboard vehicle assets to prevent collisions. Predictive maintenance is another key area, allowing operators to better monitor the risk of catastrophic accidents and intervene before they occur.

Mines are becoming more data-driven, making them safer and more efficient working environments.2

Using Simulators for Better Training: The TS-Series

Workforce training is central to ensuring proper safety in mines and every industry. However, high training costs and dangers during on-the-job training can be problematic. Simulated work environments help overcome these challenges by allowing new workers to train safely.

Finnish company Sleipner Finland Oy has recently launched a new range of simulators, the TS-series. These provide both static and portable training solutions for mining companies to improve occupational safety awareness for new and existing employees. According to the company, the simulation experience is ultra-realistic, with advanced software and physics.

The company says the TS-series of simulators can reduce training costs by up to 66%. Excavator operators can be trained in complete safety while saving the company money.3

Wearable Tech: A Key Safety Trend in Mining

In recent years, much emphasis has been placed on research into wearable technologies in the mining industry. IoT-enabled helmets and personal protective equipment with integrated smart sensors are becoming more commonplace in modern mines.

36Zero, a UK-based startup, has developed smart band wearable tech that monitors vital signs, worker locations, and the surrounding environment. In addition to its monitoring capabilities, the tech includes a panic button to inform staff of an emergency.

SafeSpot is a modular wearable device that has been developed by Metasense, an Australian startup. This smart tech can be fitted to helmets, enhancing environmental risk monitoring and management for workers. Mine managers can track employees remotely, significantly improving safety.4

Virtual Modeling in Mining

Another key trend in the mining industry is the evolution of the digital mine. This data analytics-driven environment uses a wealth of information captured in real-time to improve efficiency, productivity, and safety by building up dynamic and insightful virtual maps of the entire mine and all its assets.

UK startup Headlight AI has developed a LiDAR-based imaging and mapping system. A 360-degree rotating scanner builds up a virtual map of the entire mine environment, including assets and equipment which are then identified by onboard artificial intelligence (AI), helping to identify potential hazards to workers. gNextLabs has introduced a highly accurate SaaS virtual modeling solution.4

The Future of Mining Safety

Safety is of central importance in the mining industry; workers are the number one asset in any mining operation and their physical safety must be ensured at all times.

Worker safety can only improve as innovative technologies enter the mining industry, including virtual mapping, wearables, AI, and automation.

However, this will require a multi-dimensional approach, incorporating good working practice and mine management, technological innovation, robust government regulations and codes, and investment.

While challenging, the recent advances in this article and many other examples of innovative technologies and forward-thinking work practices over the last few decades are encouraging.

References and Further Reading

  1. Tunnicliffe, A (2024) The role of technology in mine safety and rescue [online] Mining Technology. Available at: https://www.mining-technology.com/features/the-role-of-technology-in-mine-safety-and-rescue/ (Accessed on 09 May 2024)
  2. Prinsloo, G & Parran, S (2021) Trend 9: On the road to zero harm [online] Deloitte. Available at:  https://www2.deloitte.com/xe/en/insights/industry/mining-and-metals/tracking-the-trends/2021/next-generation-mining-safety-technology.html (Accessed on 09 May 2024)
  3. NS Energy (2022) Sleipner Finland launches new product line, TS-series [online] nsenergybusiness.com. Available at: https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/news/sleipner-finland-launches-new-product-line-ts-series/ (Accessed on 09 May 2024)
  4. Startus Insights (2023) Top 8 Mining Trends & Innovations in 2023 [online] startus-insights.com. Available at: https://www.startus-insights.com/innovators-guide/mining-trends/ (Accessed on 09 May 2024)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Reginald Davey

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for AZoNetwork represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.

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