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What will it take to achieve “zero harm” in mining?

The industry is still a long way from achieving “zero harm.” Collisions, fatigue, distraction, slope failures and other hazards continue to threaten the health of miners and machines. Technology currently helps many miners get home safely but what will it take to protect everyone? 

NJ: Thanks for tuning in. Hi, I’m Neville Judd from Hexagon Radio. Technology mitigates many of the risks faced by miners including blind-spots, fatigue, distraction and slope failure. But can technology protect everyone? What will it take to achieve “zero harm?” Joining me to discuss this is MineProtect Portfolio Manager, Marcos Bayuelo, and Mining division CTO, Rob Daw. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us today.

RD: Thanks, Nev.

MB: Thanks for having us, Nev.

NJ: You bet. Great to have both of you here. So, Marcos, sum up for us what technological progress has been made in helping mines to protect their people and their equipment.

MB: Technologies for preventive accidents have been around the industry for many many years and you can take an approach not only within traffic accidents but in general, but if we touch on that specific on how technologies helping to prevent accidents and we see within Hexagon we started to try to help customers trying to avoid accidents between heavy machinery and light vehicles with collision avoidance that evolved into introducing tracking radars to prevent accidents versus obstacles and tag vehicles or tag objects to protecting pedestrians and the interactions they have to perform within maintenance or by operations itself to the introduction of the operator alertness system to really minimise the accidents due to fatigue and distraction, to now bringing together all of our safety analytics to really provide the user not only on the operator level or the task floor but as well to the administration to really measure the performance of their safety and really to see now migrating and bring in the computing edge to light vehicles to protect our workforce that as well has to drive back home. So, you see the sum of all of the technology that has been put together, we are trying to cover a large number of the risks that our operations are exposed to, and we keep working into the future to bring more and more solutions.

RD: As Marcos said, really now what we also want to do is understand and analyse the power of the data that these sensors are capturing for us and really transition our mentality from being reactive to these types of scenarios and events to a much more proactive state where we want to be able to work with our clients to identify where hazards may be present and actually looking at your safety triangle, see how we can actually remove or engineer those risks out if possible or put in other mitigating steps throughout that cycle, as well.

NJ: Just a follow up to that. Is there a role for autonomous and semi-autonomous products in creating that safer mine?

RD: Absolutely. One of those inherent risks that I highlighted at the beginning was around human risk and we are that common denominator, unfortunately. So, I think if we are to put in more technologies that can assist our operators, our people out in the field, that’s only going to help us mitigate more and more of these incidents. Obviously, the future state where everything seems to be heading is definitely more and more towards autonomous, so, how do we remove people from a hazardous environment? I think that is the question or a goal that a lot of the mining companies that we deal with are really pushing towards and aiming for.

NJ: So, Marcos, maybe as portfolio manager I’ll ask you this and obviously Rob, feel free to come in, but I’m wondering if it’s possible to create one solution that mitigates so many different risks and, if you were going to do that, what’s the most logical approach to creating that one integrated solution?

MB: I think that’s a question that we as technology providers and our customers would like to answer yes, it’s that simple, but I think every risk, every mine site, every operation is as specific, is individual and as different as the mine that is just beside it. So, there is no one solution today that can mitigate so many varied risks, but there is a logical and appropriate approach to take in order to be able to mitigate the various risks that our operations are exposed to and it is basically providing the solutions that can address the specific risks that are inherent to your mine operation and that you are trying to solve. Providing different solutions doesn’t mean that you have to go around and scrap things over, so, our approach is to really provide scalable solutions that can really address your risks at your pace. But, not only provide you the solutions that can really allow you to mitigate the risks, make them configurable enough so they address the risk in your specific mining operation, and as well take on a scalable approach that allows you to really take on a better approach to as well ease the technology adoption because one important key piece are the people, as Rob mentioned, the human factor, the people that make the decisions. The more that we assist them, the more they need to really improve the technologic approach or the adoption of the technology. This accompanied by what we call a “serious about safety” framework, a framework that we have put together to really establish an efficient and optimal technology adoption from the workforce, but as well from the organisation itself, that really can provide you the approach to solve your risk, get to your future state without having to be a specific solution, that really allows you to grow at your own pace as a mining operation.

RD: It’s important to note that when we go in with a safety solution to a lot of our clients, it’s not just about installing some hardware, configuring and walking away. It touches so many parts of their business when you’re putting in safety-critical solutions. Everything down to the mine operating procedures, daily stand-ups and what you’re going to be doing for the day, all of these different areas where it really goes in and becomes an intrinsic part of your business. One use case actually was even around the OAS side of things and completely off-topic from what we were trying to do in terms of protecting the operator from falling asleep, we were actually able to identify a medical risk, or incident, that person actually had. What I’m saying is down that path is that we go so far into different parts of your mining business that really, we need to have an underlying framework that enables us to support our clients’ needs and demands. That’s got to be scalable and that’s got to be able to be useable for each one of those clients in their different inputs and their expected outputs.

NJ: Right. Now, in previous answers you’ve alluded to the importance of data. Maybe just if you could elaborate a little more on how important is data to designing and maintaining a safer mine? Either of you, please feel free to answer.

RD: Yeah. So, I think, as I said previously, we’ve always been quite reactive to safety incidents in the industry. We’ve gone back, we’ve done incident investigations, we’ve looked at everything from the operator side of things all the way through to the mechanical side of things and understanding if there were failures through all of that. I think by now [we are]starting to gather and collate a lot more of this information, not just from safety data but from a more holistic data set. We’re starting to get a lot more situational awareness in terms of if there was an incident, we can really understand exactly what happened. But then more importantly, we can then start to look into the future and identify if those trends start to happen, can we be proactive and can we actually either pull up a vehicle before an incident’s going to happen? Can we re-design an intersection that we know is troublesome because we have a number of near misses in that particular area or light vehicle and heavy vehicle interaction is quite high on particular days? Other things that we can do to be proactive and, I think having that data coming through is only going to enable us to answer more and more of those questions and really start to provide our operators and our clients a deeper understanding of what’s actually happening in their operation.

MB: Exactly. I think Rob has touched a very important point here and it is with more and more sensors and more and more technology in the field we really have now eyes and ears on our operation 24/7, which can provide us now really the leading indicators that have always been needed, asked, and requested by the industry to really take proactive decisions. This is what the power of the data is. Bring in these data answers formulating into leading indicators that can tell our management to take a decision now. As Rob mentioned, changing the design of an intersection or understanding if we have an operator driving under risk, understanding if we can pull out our vehicle, understanding if there is the possibility to change our roster or the design of our shifts to really improve the fatigue management in our mine operation. All of these parts, all of these components of data is really what is going to drive us or help us to get towards [our]“zero harm” goal in the industry.

NJ: So, humans are typically resistant to change. So, I want to know how important human behaviour is and acceptance of technology to making a mine safer and Marcos, maybe you can start us off?

MB: I think, as discussed through these podcasts, everything starts with the people. They are the most valuable asset in our industry. So, they drive the productivity and they drive the safety of our mine sites. So, understanding of the technology in all levels of the organisation, not only from the operators that have to deal with the technology onboard day-to-day, but as well from the administration is key to ensure the success of the expected business outcome that we want from the technology that we are implementing. So, it’s not only about having the right technology, but having the right technology embedded within our mining processes. And this is not only aligned or achieved by appropriate change management, but as well how we communicate and how we maintain or keep the continuous improvement to reinforce the positive behaviours that we are driving to create the “zero harm” culture, to enhance the safety culture. And within these, we as Hexagon collaborate as business partners from the organisation to drive this change, to help you on this journey. Not only that, we as Hexagon collaborate with the best in the industries to really bring you the best possible outcome and that is why we are collaborating with Proudfoot as a big company that can really help us on driving the change management from the experts to the industry.

RD: Um, no. I think we are really happy to be able to work with many consultants in the industry and Proudfoot is definitely one that has come along and is really helping us accelerate that change-management process, as Marcus alluded to, safety solutions are one piece, safety sensors and technology is just one small piece. To have a really successful project, we definitely need to bring the people and the process along with it, so that we really maximise the investment in those technologies and Proudfoot really do provide that capability for us, as well, and we work really collaboratively together to be able to launch a safety playbook that we can then go in and work with our clients and identify what their technology needs are from a safety point of view, the methodology of how we want to implement these solutions, and then obviously exactly what technology is required. So, [we are]really excited to see where that can go. As I mentioned before, we do touch so many parts of the mining business when we implement one of these systems. So, it’s great to have these guys on board to help us out and assist.

NJ: So, collision avoidance, proximity detection, vehicle intervention, they’re all becoming legally mandated by some governments. Do you think there is more that governments and industry could be doing to legislate and enforce safety measures? Rob, feel free to start us off.

RD: My question there, back to this one, is do we need to legislate it? I mean, in reality, I look at these technologies and if you’re an operator, if you’re a manager, if you’re a general manager on-site, you want to have the best and safest solutions in your operation. So, again, I don’t necessarily think that we have to go down the path of legislation. I think that it should just become good practise. You know, we go in and we buy vehicles like every day-use cars and if something doesn’t have cruise control, then we’re really not interested in buying it, right, versus the alternative of no cruise control, some people, maybe, but general trend says no, we want to have the latest and best tech. Why are we any different in mining and why are we lagging behind that? If we can have a vehicle that automatically slows you down and stops you from tailgating the truck in front of you, from a safety point of view, that for me is a no-brainer. We should be putting that into our operation. That’s just the safest and best way to operate your mine and most efficient. So, for me, I’m not so much on the path of does the government need to do more? Not so much. Industry? We’ve got a lot of really good bodies out there in the industry that are really trying to drive this change and get the right standards in place, which is really important so that we know what we are working towards and we know what good looks like in this aspect, I guess, but realistically I think it’s down to the organisations, the operations, and ultimately from our point of view in Hexagon, it’s really getting out there and enabling them to understand what the benefits are for these types of safety solutions and then for me it speaks for itself, and I think there shouldn’t be too many questions after that.

NJ: Are you seeing that, Marcos, from customers being proactive rather than waiting for the government to tell them what to do?

MB: Yeah. I think as the industry grows, as the industry transforms we have definitely seen a global change in the maturity of our customers and how they understand safety from five, ten years ago where the technology was just nice to have until this point where it’s becoming the best practise because the outcome is seen. It’s just about how can the best bodies or the organisations around the industry can really leverage the knowledge that it has accumulated in certain a certain amount of regions and really try to collaborate and make the best practises and known processes and sometimes what happens is once a mine site is isolated the knowledge of what you can do better is not there. How can you really operate safer? How can you operate more productively and improve your processes? So, as long as we try to distribute the knowledge, I also think not too much on the way of that we really need to mandate these from a governmental standpoint. It’s more about how the industry drives itself and how we as technology providers can really make the technology adoption easier for our customers and provide what is required from then to really make mining safer.

RD: Yeah, again this speaks for itself. I mean, I cannot remember the stats off the top of my head, and Marcos, you can probably help me out, from an incident, the amount of time and the amount of cost over and above the worst part is obviously the actual incident itself, as we discussed earlier, but what were some of the figures there, Marcos, around the costs of an incident on the mine site?

MB: So, yeah from a fatality on where the mine has to stop, and just talking about the worst, because there is no price for a human life, but from the business-impact perspective can go from $5,000,000 up to $20,000,000 in terms of revenue from the whole investigation, loss of production, insurances, stock market, all of these have a direct impact on the business.

RD: Yeah, even down to a metal-on-metal incident, right, you’ve at least got two trucks out of the cycle for up to a week or whatever that might be. So, just those financial implications over and above all of the other pieces, I think it really does sell itself. There are huge amounts of value that operations can realise in implementing this sort of technology and that’s why I think the industry is probably the best place to really push and drive the adoption of this sort of stuff.

NJ: Great. We’ve been referring to this phrase, “zero harm,” it’s commonly used in the industry, but I’m wondering how realistic is “zero harm” and what do you think it will take to actually achieve “zero harm” in the industry?

MB: So, from my perspective, I think that this is a goal that must be achievable and realistic. It’s not an overnight goal, of course, but this is what really drives the portfolio mission, is like how can we really avoid any accidents and people getting injured in the mine site and this is a long journey that needs to start internally within an organisation to really take safety seriously and it is not only getting technology out because it is mandated by the government but really taking it seriously and drive an organisation to their culture. I think there is a realistic approach that can drive us towards “zero harm” and that’s where all the bodies are trying to work together to bring these into consideration within the industry that all of our mine sites take safety as seriously as it is required to really drive towards “zero harm” with nobody else getting injured and technology makes a key piece or is a key component in this goal but as well it’s part of the organisation itself in how we drive our workforce and our administration towards this goal.

RD: I think the nice thing we’ve seen there as well is the trend over the years that safety really has become one of the higher priorities from the early 2000’s or even earlier than through until sort of now, it’s definitely one of the key pillars to any mining operation. So, I think the focus is there and it’s right, and that’s the first step in this journey. I think, is it possible to get to “zero harm?” Absolutely. What does that mean and what steps do we need to put in place? I think there’s a number of those and, as Marcos alluded to earlier, there’s so many variables that come into an operation and how we actually mitigate those risks that we need to look at those playbooks and the frameworks and identify those risks and then start to put policies, procedures, ultimately engineer things out where possible, or eliminate those risks so we can achieve that “zero harm.” I think there’s been huge steps and huge strides made in the mining industry over the last three to five years that have definitely given us a big boost in that direction.

NJ: A good note to end on. Rob, Marcos, thanks so much for joining us today.

MB: Thanks for having us

RD: Thanks, Nev.

NJ: You bet. A big thank you to our guests Rob and Marcos. For more information about today’s topic, visit hexagonmining.com. To listen to additional episodes or learn more, visit hxgnspotlight.com. Thanks for tuning in.