Engineering & Mining Journal

JUL 2018

Engineering and Mining Journal - Whether the market is copper, gold, nickel, iron ore, lead/zinc, PGM, diamonds or other commodities, E&MJ takes the lead in projecting trends, following development and reporting on the most efficient operating pr

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Page 43 of 75

HEALTH & SAFETY 42 E&MJ • JULY 2018 No segment of the mining industry is more critical to productivity and sustainability than worker health and safety. Inattention or failure in this area can lead to conse- quences for mine operators that range from immediate (worker injury or fatality) to en- during (occupation-related disability, regu- latory investigation, production suspension or even loss of social license to operate). It's an area that offers some opportu- nities for quick fixes — but also presents formidable challenges stemming from complex interactions. For example, a sim- ple change in materials, such as switching a processing plant's manhole, trench and other types of access covers from heavy metal or concrete to, say, lighter but tough synthetic composites might reduce com- mon work-related lifting injuries. A solution to reduce operator fatigue could require attention to factors that might include any- thing from personal sleep habits to compli- cated social and work environment issues. For mine operators, making correct choices in health and safety policies in a business environment defined by compet- itive success and ability to weather market swings will most likely get harder before it gets easier. The global mining workforce is changing because of demographic and geographic trends, and today's miner will not be the miner of the future. In fact, the miner of the future may not even be human, as the industry edges incrementally toward the ultimate safety goal of removing workers from hazardous environments wherever possible, replacing them with autonomous or teleremote-con- trolled equipment. Achieving this objective requires a new way of looking at traditional policies and workflows, and even though the future may see a lower population of workers underground and in the pit, safety problem-solving will always have to take the human factor into account. Autonomous trucks, drills and dozers can be programmed to adhere without fail to best practices. With human workers, it's not quite that easy. Risky on-the-job behavior is a leading cause of safety-related incidents. In the U.S., for example, government statistics show that improper handling of materials, slipping or falling, and improper use of hand tools accounted for almost 60% of nonfatal lost- time injuries in underground mining opera- tions between 2011 and 2015. Connected Future Empowering employees by providing on- the-job, real-time guidance and status in- formation through better communications is one way of reinforcing desired workplace behaviors, and Gaston Carrion, a resourc- es-industry talent and organization lead for Accenture, believes mining's future will involve highly connected workers who use digital technologies, such as connected de- vices, automation, real-time analytics and wearables, to optimize processes both at mine sites and via remote operation centers. Mining companies that take steps to realize this vision will build a more produc- tive and safer workforce with point-of-need knowledge, according to Carrion. They will invite innovation through social collabo- ration and employee empowerment. And they will improve the employee value prop- osition in an industry that faces a talent shortage. The workforce of the future is an exciting proposition, he predicted, but will require the industry to modify how work is organized, performed and managed. Part of that workflow modification will come from increased use of Artificial Intel- ligence, or AI, loosely defined as systems that can perform tasks that normally re- quire human intelligence, including visual and speech recognition, decision-making and language translation. AI is one of those topics that people like to bat around in dis- cussion, but not many people thoroughly understanding its underlying concepts. The sidebar Why is Artificial Intelligence Important? on p. 46 offers some insights into its uses and advantages. Although it's currently a matter for de- bate as to whether computer-based deci- sion systems will ever completely possess a level of generalized intelligence that rivals the human brain in terms of complexity and variability of thought processes, it is clear that AI will play a major role in the future of industry, mining included. Major mineral producers are exploring and, with increasing frequency, adopting AI-based approaches to streamline complex tasks ranging from exploration program planning to mill optimization. In the past, AI solu- tions typically haven't risen to the top of the list when companies address critical health and safety issues, but that is changing. Carrion provided some examples of potential safety and productivity benefits to be gained from a digitized workplace: • Equipping the workforce with wearables makes it possible to easily monitor em- ployees and contractors on-site. Using head-mounted displays enables the workforce to request "over the shoulder" coaching while repairing equipment. Digital Initiatives Connect Safety Challenges and Solutions Interest in AI is booming as producers tap into ever-increasing data streams to make mining safer and more productive By Russell A. Carter, Contributing Editor 'Wi-Fi to the face,' ruggedized mobile devices and smarter wearable digital solutions offer many potential safety improvements for miners.

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