Image credits: Rob Lambert

Technology Reduces Safety Risks in Mining

By Karin Dilge | Fri, 06/03/2022 - 09:21

Automatization, digitalization, and electrification are transforming the way in which mines operate. Despite the reluctance toward innovation experienced in the mining sector, its implementation has demonstrated positive impacts on safety and financial results.  

Autonomous vehicles, automated drilling, tunnel boring systems, drones and smart sensors are among the technologies disrupting the industry. According to the World Economic Forum, autonomous machines will be commonplace by 2025 and having these machines operating 24 hours a day, every day, at high levels of productivity and with lower labor costs and risks, could add US$56 billion to the industry’s bottom line.

Although the mining sector has improved in regards to safety, with accidental deaths dropping in 2019 to an all-time low, there are still areas of opportunity as it is still one of the industries with the highest fatality rates, with an average of nine workers dying each year.

“One of the main challenges that the mining industry faces is ensuring secure operations. Many shareholders have not yet identified this as a key hurdle in the mission to optimize costs, increase efficiency, reduce the number of accidents and optimize the budget. Accidents have heavy repercussions,” said Alejandro Sánchez, CEO, Abacus IT, in an interview with MBN.

“According to the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), the average cost of an accident is US$10,000. Accident rates in the mining sector are among the highest of all industries. Focusing on security and accident prevention is, therefore, important to reduce those costs,” said Luis Valenzuela, Director of the Project Management Office, Abacus IT.

According to the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Metals, and Sustainable Development (IGF), smart sensors could create US$34 billion in value for the industry through predictive maintenance, improved equipment utilization, reduced downtimes and equipment failures, as well as reduced health and safety incidents. “Digitalization through improved health and safety could also save an estimated 1,000 lives and avoid 44,000 injuries,” states IGF.

Factors such as poor air quality, low visibility, chemical hazards and structural dangers pose a risk to workers and, consequently, to the company. Experts have noted drones are among the most exciting technologies implemented in mining because they can be used to survey areas that could be dangerous for a human worker. For example, if there is a tunnel collapse, drones can help locate trapped workers without the need to put another worker in danger, informs Geospatial World.

“Miners can create the layout of a mine by using robots that can walk or fly inside tunnels, while the operator remains outside and therefore not exposed to the risks of unfamiliar terrain. In addition, miners can know how many trucks are coming in and out of a mine site as they can monitor them by satellite. We use technology to examine the outside and inside of a mine, making faster calculations of ore volumes to move product more efficiently,” said Armando Guevara, CEO, Gtt NetCorp, in an interview with MBN.

Another example of successful technology implementation is in open-pit mines, where autonomous haul trucks drive themselves between the loading and dumping areas. The companies applying those technologies have seen an increase in productivity and are looking to expand those fleets.

Wearables can also have a big impact on individual safety in the sector. IoT or RFID technology can track a worker’s activity around the mine and allow workers to press a distress button in emergency situations. Also, they help site managers to make sure no one accidentally enters unsafe areas.

Even though these technologies are not new to the mining sector, companies and shareholders still worry about them being too expensive. Nevertheless, the social and financial rewards in the long run outweigh the investment. Another concern is automation taking over people’s jobs but experts agree the human factor will always be necessary in mining activities. The difference will be that technology will help remove human workers from dangerous tasks. “In Mexico technology is crucial to unlocking the country’s mining value,” says Guevara.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Metals and Sustainable Development, Geospatial World, Canaria, MBN
Photo by:   Rob Lambert
Karin Dilge Karin Dilge Journalist and Industry Analyst