Since mining companies gain efficiency by moving more tonnage with fewer but larger vehicles, the trend leads toward ever-larger dozers, trucks, draglines and shovels. But the larger the vehicle, the larger the blind zones around them; and these blind zones can lead to potentially catastrophic accidents.
Larger Vehicles Can Mean More Danger
The blind zones around mining equipment can be huge: Sean Martell, PRECO’s mining and construction sales manager, says that when operating large haul trucks, drivers can lose visibility to a hazard when the person or object is as far away as 150 feet from the rear of these massive machines. That’s half a football field.
Recently, in Mining Magazine, Martell further explained that “…visibility is further diminished by the presence of fog, snow, dirt, mud, debris and other extreme elements and weather conditions. These are exactly the kinds of conditions you’ll find on most surface mining sites.”
Proximity Warning Systems See Through It All
Heavy equipment operators need safety warning systems that can penetrate harsh environmental conditions to detect people and objects at an adequate distance, providing them ample time to react and avoid potential collisions. Proximity warning systems (also known as object-detection systems) have emerged as one of the more successful solutions. Systems manufactured specifically for heavy-duty industries use sensors that are capable of seeing through harsh environmental conditions and built to withstand these extremes in order to reliably and consistently detect both moving and stationary objects.
Best-in-class radar-based warning systems provide unique advantages to surface mine operators. These advantages include:
- Detection zone can be adjusted to meet machine sizes and site conditions.
- Sensors are ruggedized to withstand harsh conditions and require minimal, if any, maintenance.
- The systems are easy to install.
- The systems can actively monitor blind zones for people, equipment, structures, etc.
- And the systems can be integrated with existing and future systems (such as cameras, telematics, vehicle control and automation) to improve detection and help mitigate accidents.
What Will Surface Mining Safety Look Like in 10 Years?
Reducing accidents can seem like a perpetual game of catch-up. Spotters are a proven method of protecting employees on foot behind large vehicles with obstructed views, but those very same spotters are the most common accident victims. Alarms are installed, but have become so commonplace that they often ignored. While helpful, cameras require operators to take their eyes off the wheel and look at an in-cab monitor in order to detect an obstruction in their blind zone(s). Harsh environmental conditions on mining sites can cause moisture, dust, and extreme elements that make cameras unreliable.
But the industry is getting better at driving accident rates closer and closer to zero.
- Companies are learning to combine sensor-based systems with cameras and monitors to provide both audible and visual alerts to actively notify an operator of a potential collision danger.
- Companies are implementing telematics and other technologies that monitor driver behavior and report accidents and near misses.
- OEMs are implementing advanced driver-assistance systems such as automatic braking, and will soon build a new generation of fully autonomous vehicles.
Radar technology is advancing as well. The next generation of radar-based proximity warning systems will enable surface mining equipment operators to determine the distance an object is from the vehicle, the velocity at which it is moving, and its relative location. Some radar systems are already able to detect objects that are virtually against the sensors, and can use moisture content to distinguish inanimate from animate objects. Will all of this technology lead to accident-free mining sites? Time will tell, but safety technology is driving quickly—and cautiously—in that direction.