While technology is an indispensable safety tool, the task of achieving Zero Harm is really about people, ANTON LOURENS, CEO of Booyco Electronics, tells Mining Review Africa.
As a leading technology developer in proximity detection systems (PDS), Booyco Electronics’ mission is to save lives, says Lourens. Employees must be able to return safely to their families each day, and this requires more than placing instruments on machines.
“Technology is not the silver bullet when it comes to driving Zero Harm,” he emphasises. “It is a powerful tool that must be applied in an integrated fashion with a range of interventions that facilitate behaviour change.”
Lourens highlights that recent regulatory changes have shifted the focus in mine safety toward mitigating significant risk. Chapter 8 of the Mine Health and Safety Act requires mines to take ‘reasonably practicable measures’ to ensure the safety of employees.
Risk assessment is therefore the key element in efforts by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to drive its regulations relating to PDS.
Collaboration and integration
“We therefore prefer to work in collaboration with our customers, where we can apply a more integrated approach, focusing on human behaviour, resistance to change and the change management process,” he says.
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The aim is to ensure that, when PDS technology is installed on a mine, employees have an in-depth understanding of exactly what these tools can do. More importantly, they know what is required of each employee to make the system work effectively in the interests of safety.
“For instance, we recently worked with a customer and their other stakeholders to help implement a new Level 9 collision avoidance system (CAS),” says Lourens.
“This included workforce engagement and education, user acceptance, analysing traffic flow, identifying traffic flow risks, and developing a practical traffic management plan.”
The process involves integrating the CAS technology, the OEM’s technology, the mine’s people, information and communication systems, and the mine’s operational and maintenance engineering systems for its trackless mining machines (TMMs).
He notes that the integrated approach is usually a time-consuming process, especially as this is new ground for many PDS technology providers, TMM OEMs and mines themselves.
The pressure is on, however, given that Level 9 solutions are expected to be in place by December 2020. These solutions facilitate engineering control, for example automatic slow-down and even safe-stop of TMMs, going beyond providing only warning signals.
“The ISO 21815 standard provides a gateway for the necessary interfacing of equipment between OEMs and PDS suppliers,” he says. “Mines play a particularly important role in this phase, as they should help encourage and support collaboration between these two parties.”
The rapid evolution of PDS – leveraging the benefits of the digital revolution – has seen data and information become a powerful tool in the quest for Zero Harm. The data generated by Booyco’s PDS can help a mine identify situations and individual actions which raise risk levels, so that management can respond appropriately.
“Vital data is stored on an employee’s pedestrian tag and on the TMM’s control unit, and this can be merged into a database that delivers intelligent and practical information,” he says.
“By feeding this information back to management and employees alike, everyone can gain new insights into behaviour that could create a risky situation.”
He emphasises that by understanding what raises the risk of collisions in any operation – either between machines and pedestrians or between machines – mines can better manage that risk. The goal of Zero Harm can really only be reached through a continuous improvement in risk management.
South Africa is in many respects leading the way with regard to PDS and CAS, and testing is underway at mines countrywide to align the ISO standard and apply an effective Level 9 solution.
Booyco Electronics was one of the first PDS suppliers to conduct testing with the University of Pretoria’s Vehicle Dynamics Group (VDG), leveraging its good relationships with OEMs. The VDG test procedure is fundamental to the implementation of the Level 9 requirement.
“Our testing is ensuring that we can safely and effectively bring a vehicle to a standstill if the situation requires it,” he says. However, there have been further technological advances in recent years.
“Perhaps one of the most significant developments over the past 12 to 18 months is that Level 9 control has gone well beyond just requiring a vehicle to stop,” he says.
“Our PDS can now also instruct the machine to slow down to a specific speed under certain pre-set conditions.”
Previously, the technology steadily retarded the speed of the machine until it was rendered stationery. The Booyco system can now intelligently identify an operational scenario in the mine – for example two vehicles needing to pass each other in relatively close proximity and slow them down to a safe speed while they pass.
“This allows normal operating conditions to continue unhindered, so that productivity is not unnecessarily impacted,” he says. “A great deal of experience in the field and many lessons learnt have allowed us to reach this point.”
The Level 9 testing process is complex, as it must include the older legacy machines with manual gearboxes right through to the latest intelligent machines with fully electronic controls. This adds to the challenging task facing technology providers when integrating their PDS to each OEM’s design.
“The cost of the engineering conversion of TMMs to conform to the ISO standard also comes at a considerable cost to mining companies,” he says.
“However, the mining sector’s commitment to Zero Harm has ensured that the necessary work is going ahead, and will have a further positive impact on health and safety levels in mines.”