The emerging trends and challenges of mining safety equipment
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The mining industry is a vital sector in the global economy.  However, the industry’s safety record has been marred by severe injuries and fatalities, often resulting from inadequate safety procedures and outdated equipment. In view of this, improving mining safety has become a pressing issue, with various legislations and standards implemented globally to address this issue. However, advancements in plants, machinery and technology are driving change.

Emerging trends in mining safety equipment

In recent years, the mining industry has experienced significant technological advancements, leading to the development of innovative safety equipment. These new safety technologies aim to enhance safety measures and reduce accidents in the mining industry.

Technological advancements

Technological advancements

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the core for imitating human intelligence processes through the creation and application of algorithms built into a dynamic computing environment. In the workplace, artificial intelligence can enhance efficiency and increase humans’ capacity to perform certain tasks. AI frees humans to do the less taxing and hazardous work, by taking over repetitive or dangerous tasks.

AI for mining safety

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an emerging trend in mining safety that has the potential to significantly enhance safety procedures in the industry. AI-powered systems can analyse vast amounts of data collected from mining operations, detecting potential safety hazards, and identifying patterns that indicate the likelihood of accidents occurring. For example, AI can be used to monitor the condition of mining equipment and machinery, detecting signs of wear and tear that could lead to malfunctions and accidents. AI can also analyse real-time data from sensors and cameras installed in mining sites, providing workers with alerts and warnings in case of potential hazards, such as gas leaks or unstable terrain.

Another way AI can improve mining safety is by automating dangerous and repetitive tasks. Mining operations involve several hazardous and physically demanding tasks that put workers at risk of severe injuries. With AI-powered robots and automation systems, these tasks can be performed remotely or autonomously, reducing workers’ exposure to dangerous working conditions

Some examples of other significant technological advancements include:

Automation and robotics

Automation and robotics are quite common in various industries including mining. Autonomous mining vehicles have been around for nearly two decades now in Western Australia iron mines with the introduction of 80 driverless Komatsu trucks in 2008, massively increasing their mining productivity.

These vehicles transformed mining because, workers could communicate with and control the machinery remotely. This made them perfect for use in underground mines, as well as other hazardous environments where the worker’s safety risk was high.

Exciting advancements in robotics mean that the robotic system creates high-resolution 3D maps of an underground mine, assessing the pillars and roof for damage. The 3D maps monitor the mine pillars’ structural integrity over time and enable the team to detect dangerous conditions that could lead to collapse early on.

Wearable technology devices

One of the emerging trends in mining safety equipment is the use of wearable technology. Wearable technology devices such as smart helmets and safety vests are becoming increasingly popular in the mining industry. These devices come equipped with various sensors that monitor the wearer’s vital signs, body temperature, and fatigue levels. The sensors can alert the wearer of potential safety hazards and ensure that they remain safe while carrying out their tasks. Wearable technology devices are set to become an essential component of mining safety equipment in the future.

GPS technologies

Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) positioning and navigation systems have recently been developed and implemented by some mining companies on blasthole drills and electric cable shovels in their open-pit mines. These GPS systems produce accurate, three-dimensional imaging of the location of the drill bit or the shovel tracks in real-time via a Moving Map Display (MMD) on a screen. This allows the operator to accurately navigate the drill from blasthole to blasthole, maintain a desired shovel grade, or face position from a remote location. Durable, proven GPS components are needed for this type of system in order to withstand the often-extreme environmental conditions.

Digital twins

Digital twins are virtual replicas of a mine’s physical assets, processes, and systems. Digital twins can be used to create detailed, 3D models of the mine, including the locations of personnel and equipment. This can be used to track the movement of workers and vehicles, ensuring that they are in safe areas and avoiding collisions.

Operational intelligence

Operational Intelligence – OI generates a real-time overview of all mining operations and enables operators to make decisions based on data-based insights. Since operational intelligence automates a mining operator’s data and integrates information across its value chain and between mine sites, it results in data-driven decisions to be made which ultimately assists in improving operational efficiencies and maximising performance.

Wireless monitoring

With wireless monitoring, mines can digitise assets and monitor their performance in real time. Wireless geotechnical monitoring helps reduce some of the risks associated with underground mining. Background rock falls, cave-ins and collapses are very real risks in an underground mine. These disastrous events can lead to serious injury or even death, cause damage or loss, thus wireless monitoring can make a significant impact in determining the risks to mining employees; pre-empting potential accidents.

The use of drones

Another emerging trend in mining safety equipment is the use of drones. Drones equipped with high-definition cameras and sensors can survey mining sites, identifying safety hazards such as unstable terrain or gas leaks. Drones can also be used to inspect mining equipment and machinery, ensuring they are functioning correctly and not posing any safety risks to workers.

Challenges in mining safety equipment

Challenges in mining safety equipment

Despite the emerging trends in technological advancements that offer preventative safety strategies and improved productivity, the mining industry is faced with challenges regarding industrial safety equipment such as cost and inconsistent safety practices.

Cost of acquiring and maintaining safety equipment

Whilst significant advancements have occurred in mining safety equipment, the industry still faces challenges in implementing these technologies. One of the main challenges is the high cost of acquiring and maintaining safety equipment. Other than the cost of the vehicles themselves, there is an extra cost of mapping the mines for the vehicles to run, as well as the set-up of a control centre. Additionally, some workers may be hesitant to use new safety equipment due to a lack of training or unfamiliarity with the technology.

Inconsistent safety practices

Moreover, some countries have weaker safety regulations and standards than others, leading to inconsistent safety practices in the mining industry. The need for international safety regulations and standards that cut across borders is essential in addressing this challenge.

The future of mining safety equipment

The future of mining safety equipment

The future of mining safety equipment is promising, however, like other emerging trends in mining safety equipment, the implementation of AI-powered systems in the mining industry faces several challenges. One of the main challenges is the cost of acquiring and implementing AI technologies, which can be significant for mining companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises.  Additionally, there may be concerns about job displacement and worker retraining, as the implementation of AI may render some jobs redundant.

Despite these challenges, AI is an exciting area of development for mining safety, with significant potential to improve safety procedures and reduce the number of accidents in the industry. As with other emerging trends in mining safety, implementation should be done with proper planning, training, and compliance with safety regulations and standards to ensure that workers remain safe while carrying out their tasks.

By integrating trending technology into industrial safety equipment, the mining industry can benefit from enhanced safety measures, proactive risk management, and improved overall safety outcomes for workers and the environment. If you need help with safety measures for your mining site, contact Locksafe today. Providing a wide variety of immobilisation and interruption safety compliance lockout products, Locksafe is leading the way in mining safety and emerging trends to keep workers safe. Reach out on (08) 9455 7255 or send an enquiry online.

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