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Securing open-pit mine safety
04 April 2012
Securing open-pit mine safety

Mining is a business fraught with risks. From natural disasters to faulty equipment and human error, safety and productivity is constantly threatened by accidents and breakdowns. These risks can affect not only the functioning and thereby the revenue generating ability of the mine, but can also add significantly to the costs and result in injury or even death.

In open pit mines, one of the dangers faced on a daily basis is collisions among heavy-duty vehicles and between these systems and light vehicles driven by visitors and contractors on site. An accident with one of these large trucks can easily be fatal; therefore, steps must be taken to avoid any accidents at all costs.

Avoidance is, however, not always easy in environments consisting of uneven terrain and poor roads, as well as in the dusty environment these machines work in. This environment reduces visibility significantly. Moreover, the size of some of the trucks used means operators are situated in a cab that provides a limited view of the vehicle’s immediate surroundings even in the best of conditions.
For the team in the control room, knowing which vehicle is where is an important part of optimising productivity. This knowledge allows controllers to ensure vehicles are used to their maximum capabilities instead of spending shifts in areas where they either collect low-grade material, or where they have long waiting periods.
The control room also needs a mechanism to record which vehicles are driving over the speed limit and to monitor in real time which ones are in restricted areas.
“A better solution would be to implement a system similar to the GPS solutions used in cars today,” says Lourens du Plessis, MD of Modular Mining Africa. “This would allow controllers to keep a constant watch on where vehicles are and divert operators to areas where they can be more productive.”
On a mine, however, the operators themselves need to know where they are with respect to their particular environment, but they also need to know where other vehicles are to avoid collisions. 
“But more than simply seeing where other vehicles are, operators need to have an automated warning system,” adds Du Plessis. “These individuals are focused on doing their jobs and cannot always keep an eye on their screens in case another vehicle comes too close.”
Modular Mining’s latest technology offering designed to assist in reducing accidents is RoadMap. To afford protection to vehicles without requiring constant operator vigilance, RoadMap creates a virtual bubble around trucks as they go about their daily operations. When two of these virtual bubbles come near one another, the operators are warned via a vicinity alarm and the screen in their cab shows the position of the approaching vehicle. This allows operators enough time to alter course and avoid a collision.
Because the system is portable, on site visitors and contractors can be allocated handheld PDAs with a dynamic map of the mine installed for the duration of their business on site. These individuals are then provided with up-to-the-minute information about hazards, speed limits, restricted areas and road network changes, as well as protection for their vehicles against collisions with each other and larger vehicles, no matter how bad the visibility in the environment gets.
The mine’s control room can also track the position of all the vehicles on site, allowing it to identify incorrect behaviour and even locate resources during emergencies. The control room is able to monitor the speeds travelled by vehicles on site, for example, either in real time or after the fact.
“Technology is becoming an integral part of mining operations, not only as far as improving productivity and reducing costs, but also in terms of improving worker safety and the lifespan of vehicles,” Du Plessis notes. “The trick for mine management is to ensure that the technology they use integrates with their existing systems to avoid the expense of installing and maintaining new systems each time a new technology that delivers measurable benefits is released.” 
A word of appreciation to Thamari Claasens


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