Driving change: technology’s role in eliminating vehicle-related deaths in mining

The International Council on Mining and Minerals aims to eliminate all deaths caused by mining vehicles by 2025. Kit Million Ross explores the role collision avoidance technology can play in this effort.

Vehicle-related accidents are the highest cause of deaths in mining. Credit: Gingerss via Shutterstock

Mining accidents often make front-page news but, surprisingly, the type incidents that cause the most fatalities are not dramatic mine collapses or landslides; more mine workers are killed by mining vehicles than by any other cause.  

In 2022, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) reported nine deaths caused by mobile equipment, over double the number of deaths caused by fall of ground, fires and explosions, and structural failure combined. It’s clear that whether they are operating in underground tunnels or traversing rugged terrain in open-pit mines, mining vehicles play a critical role in daily operations while also presenting significant safety challenges. 

As a result, the ICMM has made a formal commitment to eliminate fatalities caused by mining vehicles by 2025. With an unwavering dedication to worker well-being and industry sustainability, the ICMM's initiative is a bold statement that demands effort to make mining operations worldwide safer. 

But is it possible to eliminate vehicle-related deaths in the mining industry by 2025? And how can the industry make it happen? Here, we look at how new developments in technology, together with learning lessons from the past, can help towards that goal.

Harnessing technology to boost safety: the role of collision avoidance systems

At the forefront of the ICMM initiative lies a relentless pursuit of innovation and technological advancement. By harnessing the latest developments in automation, collision avoidance systems, and vehicle monitoring technologies, mining companies can mitigate potential hazards and enhance operational safety.  

Moreover, ongoing research and development efforts seek to identify new solutions and proactive measures to proactively address emerging risks and vulnerabilities, ensuring that the industry remains at the forefront of safety innovation.  

Investment in collision avoidance tech has been on the rise: GlobalData’s Mine-Site Technology Adoption Survey 2023, which surveyed leading figures at 150 mining operations, found that the rate of mining operations that have invested in collision avoidance technology has risen to 72%, up from 62% in 2022.

Artificial intelligence is increasingly being explored for collision avoidance technology.

New tech is being developed that will undoubtedly aid the ICMM’s mission to end vehicle-related deaths in the mining industry. Unsurprisingly artificial intelligence is one area that is increasingly being explored for collision avoidance technology. In December 2023, Matrix Design Group revealed its new collision avoidance system, called OmniPro Vision AI. A key part of this system is its ability to identify humans regardless of how they’re positioned, even if they’re standing sideways, crouching, kneeling, or in partial view.  

However, over-reliance on technology may lead to dangerous complacency. If operators are led into a false sense of security by relying too much on technological safeguards, they may not be able to respond effectively when the technology fails.  

OmniPro Vision AI does include a feature that may help reduce complacency: its processors are fast and sophisticated enough to avoid the risk of false positives, meaning that workers are less likely to become desensitised to alarms and alerts.

The preventative power of collision avoidance technology

An interesting way of leveraging collision avoidance technology is found in its longer-term preventative uses, rather than purely focusing on the immediate avoidance of accidents. The data collected from these systems can be analysed to identify patterns and trends, allowing for proactive safety measures to be implemented.  

If one particular site shows frequent near misses, adaptations can be made to prevent future casualties, or if one particular operator has a high rate of near-miss incidents, they can be retrained to ensure they have a full knowledge base and are not putting workers at risk.  

There’s also a potential cost benefit to this – one operator that employed AI tech onto their vehicles was able to use this data to make significant fuel savings by improving the efficiency of vehicle usage and route planning.

The data collected from these systems can be analysed to identify patterns and trends, allowing for proactive safety measures to be implemented.

One particularly forward-thinking tech development comes from Hexagon, and it could well be a huge step forward in the ICMM’s goal of ending vehicle related deaths in the mining industry. As is well known, a huge issue for drivers comes from blind spots, both in regular road traffic, and for mining vehicles.

Hexagon avoids this issue entirely through its HxGN MineProtect collision avoidance system, which has a 360-degree visual set up to completely eliminate blind spots. It’s proved massively popular – to date, Hexagon says it has implemented the system on around 40,000 mining vehicles worldwide.  

Major operations have reported huge success with the system, with Minera San Cristóbal bringing 40 systems into its San Cristóbal mine, one of the largest zinc, lead, and silver mines in the world, in 2023. In a press release about the new installation, Luis Escamilla, mine manager of Minera San Cristóbal, praised the “state of the art technology”. The mine operator also implemented Hexagon’s MineProtect operator alertness system, which helps keep vehicle operators aware of their environment, fatigue risk, distraction, or microsleep.

We can’t fix what we can’t see: the importance of data

A key part of the ICMM’s mission is getting better data, and having a robust plan for self-assessment to ensure that mining firms know just how far they have to go. Being honest with the current state of an operation – the good, the bad, and the ugly – is a key part of this.  

The ICMM has developed a maturity framework that pushes the leaders of mining operations to rate themselves across a multi-factor matrix, taking them from being “primarily focuses of legislative compliance” all the way through to “actively supporting technology development to improve industry leading practice”.  

As the ICMM says to mine operators in the guidance paperwork for the maturity framework: “It is beneficial for [operators]…to understand where you are, where you want to be and to determine what the gap is between these two states”.

The ICMM has developed a maturity framework that pushes the leaders of mining operations to rate themselves across a multi-factor matrix.

As part of the ICMM’s broader Zero Harm framework, it has developed an eight-step lessons learned mindset towards fatality prevention. Part four of this step is “learning from the past”. Within the push towards ending vehicle related deaths in the industry, the organisation has developed a knowledge hub of case studies to help operators learn from the best in the industry. 

As the mining industry navigates the path toward achieving zero harm, the ICMM’s ambitious goal to eliminate fatalities from mining vehicles by 2025 stands as a turning point in this ongoing journey. By rallying industry stakeholders around a common goal and putting effort toward meaningful action, the initiative embodies the collective resolve to prioritise safety above all else.