In tough work environments, there aren’t many that are as tough as mining. And the top priority for mine operators is the safety of their employees. Considering that South Africa has some of the deepest mines in the world and a historically poor safety record, many mining operators are increasingly focusing on the goal of zero loss of life or injury. While South Africa’s mine deaths have steadily declined to record highs over the past decade, the country has seen an 18% increase in 2020 due to rockfall and transportation-related accidents, and 2021 could turn out to be even worse.
In addition to affecting employee safety, incidents can also be costly as they result in downtime. Mining operations can also be disrupted by equipment failure, with post-incident repairs and replacements again causing costly downtime. So any proactive maintenance opportunity should be welcome.
Video surveillance – and increasingly intelligent related technologies – is now being applied to all aspects of mine safety, while also being used to improve operational efficiency and enhance the safety of mining operations from the perimeter to the rock face.
Poor visibility in mines: dealing with darkness and dust
Poor visibility can be a common mining challenge, but technologies designed to cope with low light or even near darkness are now common in surveillance cameras.
For example, advanced IR solutions make it possible to capture images in complete darkness, with cameras using built-in IR illumination. There are also technologies that provide high resolution color video in extremely low lighting conditions, and a wide dynamic range can provide detailed images in difficult lighting conditions where the scenes include both very bright areas. and dark areas.
In the context of mining, light is not the only thing that can affect visibility. With tons of earth excavated, moved and processed, an inevitable byproduct of the mining process is dust. This affects visibility and has implications for mining as a whole.
Monitoring dust clouds is important for a number of reasons. Mining operations have a responsibility to surrounding communities. Dust clouds created and blown towards homes, schools and businesses cause more than just annoyance – they pose a real risk to community health and the environment. And, in an environment where heavy machinery and vehicles are commonplace, the effect of dust on operator visibility can create an additional hazard.
Cameras equipped with deep learning-based analytical applications can now detect and monitor a much wider variety of objects, including dust clouds, allowing corrective action or alerting to be taken. proactively local communities and workers.
Manage the risks of mining machines
An additional safety risk posed in the mining industry, which can be compounded by poor visibility, comes from the sheer size of the machinery used in mining operations. The risks involved in operating such a huge machine relate both to the safety of mine workers and to the consequences of accidents between vehicles and machinery, which could cost millions of rand and put an end to mining operations.
As such, the use of on-board cameras – hardened to deal with the nature of mining – is increasingly common to help operators and drivers be aware and safe. In addition to visual cameras, on-board cameras equipped with thermal imaging can be of great help when visibility is obscured by dust. Body-worn cameras also have potential here, particularly for training and post-incident investigations.
Innovative applications of video analysis in mining
In recent years, CCTV’s analytical capabilities have exploded, with use cases in almost every industry, including mining. With deep learning now available in surveillance cameras, object recognition capabilities become more precise. In mining, these could be used to ensure that workers wear the appropriate personal protective equipment before entering the mine or when moving around the site.
In addition, people count analyzes show great potential to ensure that certain areas of the mine do not become dangerously overcrowded, with reinforced door stations, intercoms and network audio speakers used for communication and alerts. .
Beyond Safety: Operational Efficiency and Safety in Mining
While safety is rightly the number one priority for mining operators, video surveillance has an important role to play in two other key areas: operational efficiency and safety.
Mining is a connected process, and any disruption will have costly ripple effects. Prevention is better than cure, and proactive maintenance before breakdowns is optimal. For example, conveyor belts are essential for removing soil, rocks and minerals from the face, and any belt failure will immediately stop operations. Video cameras placed at key points along conveyor belts can be linked to load sensors – an overloaded conveyor belt is more likely to tear – alerting operators when load levels exceed limits and allowing visual verification. However, creating high quality images in situations of structural movement and vibration can be a real challenge. Under these conditions, the image stabilization technology will ensure that the video is always clear. Temperature reading cameras can also be used to monitor, for example, power cables and substations, quickly reporting problems and even automatically triggering the system and shutting down equipment before a catastrophic failure occurs. occur.
While perhaps seen as the more traditional role of surveillance cameras, security remains a critical area for mining operators. Mine sites can be huge, with perimeters that are impossible to physically monitor. Powerful pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) video surveillance cameras and thermal imaging cameras play a critical role in accurately identifying perimeter breaches, reducing false alarms and prompting an appropriate response. When paired with network audio speakers, the ability of operators to directly engage intruders with live audio warnings (even if operators are miles away) is a very effective deterrent against criminal activity.
The right camera in the right place at the right time, without barriers
The multiple functions and formats of modern CCTV cameras, combined with thermal capabilities, low light and smart analytics mean there is a solution for every aspect of mine operations. And it’s not just the functionality that’s designed for the unique demands of the mining industry. Rugged cameras and those using stainless steel housings can withstand both the rigors of mining operations itself and the harsh weather conditions often encountered in places where mining takes place.
Finally, when specifying a solution, it is important that potential issues with the technical infrastructure do not prevent mining operators from seeing the benefits of modern surveillance technology. In environments where bandwidth and storage are limited, video compression technology is put forward, preserving detail in video footage while reducing bandwidth and storage requirements by 50% on average. And where integration between devices and control systems is critical, using products based on open standards offers additional benefits.
Ultimately, in meeting the safety, operational and security needs of the mining industry, video surveillance is playing a more comprehensive and connected role than ever before. Are you exploiting its full potential?
By Marcel Bruyns, Sales Director, Africa Communications Axis