As the 2018 year draws to a close there is a range of uncertainty in global mining markets that have made a few investors a little nervous. There are, however, some constants emerging across the mining industry. One of those clearly evident is that the mining industry is focusing efforts around the Internet of Things (IoT), automation, Big Data digital data transformation and there has been significant progress over this past year in development and convergence of mining safety technology.
The certainty for 2019 is that there will be further progress on mining safety technology globally. A range of companies are now looking to leverage integrated sensor technology and connectivity of devices to enhance productivity and improve mining safety in real time. Despite the future opportunities in mining safety technology, there will also be a range of imminent threats to work, health and safety that we have not seen before.
The onset of automation and connected devices will no doubt bring additional challenges to mine operators and the safety professionals that work within the organisations that are embracing the technologies. The onset of cyber-attacks to automated and connected devices and sensor networks presents one of the greatest challenges to mining safety technology…and for mining safety professionals globally.
There is no doubt that a range of emerging opportunities for cyber-attacks to mining safety technology will present itself over the forthcoming years. Data corruption, misinformation, and loss of control of systems may disrupt automated equipment like haul trucks, automated drilling systems or even haul trains and potentially may affect mine worker safety through the corruption of digital safety systems that monitor and detect hazardous conditions across the mining industry. There are several questions still remaining about the efficacy and integrity of security in a range of mining safety technology despite the existence of a range of international standards that are designed to mitigate the effects of cyber-attacks.
We also understand that in 2019 the emergence of robotic systems will continue at a rapid rate. In a recent report on the future of mining in Australia, consulting group BDO predicted that “By 2020, robots will replace more than 50 percent of miners, and mining accidents will be cut by 75 percent. Half of the miners will themselves be retrained to run the technology controlling the robots.” 2019 looks to be an exciting year as the mining safety technology and system integrity management around robotic systems continues to develop in parallel. Let’s hope that the system security efforts are taken as seriously as the need for integrated data that drives safety and productivity.
We are also clearly seeing a transition from the traditional workplace safety focus to a more ‘health oriented’ focus that has been driven by the onset of a range of diseases and conditions that affect mine workers later in life. Mine worker pneumoconiosis is a real challenge but also the traumatic effects of musculoskeletal chronic conditions and hearing loss across many in the industry continue to emerge at a rapid rate. Real-time integrated monitoring of a range of noise and airborne contaminants is now possible with a range of equipment from global mining safety technology providers.
It’s the integration of real-time health-related data that may prove a challenge for the mining industry. Capturing data is one thing, but the use of these very personal data presents a range of ethical concerns for mining companies. How much information is enough? and what are the effects on the individual of loss of personal medical data through a hacking event are all questions that we must face in 2019.
Wearable health technology will also be on the radar for mining operators and safety professionals that seek to minimise exposures and/or eliminate worker exposure at the very source. Available technology can measure a range of conditions including Skin temperature, Heart rate, Biopotential measurement (ECG), Motion, Rotation, and Barometric pressure. When combined with location devices, proximity sensors, and mine control systems, further opportunities will no doubt emerge for the industry to embrace how it will manage mine worker health.
We shouldn’t also forget the development of exoskeleton products as the industry moves forward in 2019. Researchers globally have focussed efforts on supportive suits (including soft exoskeletons) that can be worn that will mitigate the effects of musculoskeletal conditions on mine workers undertaking a range of tasks involving heavy muscular load prolonged activities.
The ongoing technological growth and enhancement of mining safety technology during 2019 will be something to watch. The rapid changes to integrated technologies will have safety benefits, but the integration of the systems and security challenges around mine safety technology may form the biggest challenge for mine operators.