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Going Deeper: Mining Security

Going Deeper: Mining Security
A&S looks at the potential threats, solutions and future trends in mining security and safety: how security systems, video surveillance and access control help protect miners and mines.

Established long before data mining and bitcoin mining, mining the earth continues to be a major economic driver.

The International organizing committee for the world mining congress issues a yearly World Mining Data report. The 2021 report states that world mining production in 2019 was 17.9 billion metric tons (roughly the weight of 96,000 Boeing 747 Jumbo jets). Most of the production (58.9%) was in Asia, followed by North America (15.8%), in terms of countries, China, U.S., Russia and Australia are the four biggest mining nations.

In the last few years, Australia and China have seen the most growth and surpassed Africa, especially in the production of minerals like Lithium, Gallium and Niobium needed for the battery industry, demand for which doubled since 2015. 

Challenges in mining security and mining safety

The mining industry faces extreme and multi-faceted challenges in both security and safety. The key concern of security managers in the mining sector are keeping employees safe, however, they are also tasked with preventing theft of valuable raw materials and equipment, choosing equipment that can work in extreme environmental conditions, maintaining compliance with health, safety and environmental regulations and more often than not, working in politically unstable countries.

Working in harsh conditions

Mining security faces three main challenges: harsh conditions, large areas and high costs for installing comprehensive solutions. Compared to commercial-use security systems, mine security systems must work in harsh environments. Dust, humidity, fog, low light, heavy water flow, flammable gases and extreme temperature are common. At the depths of mines, the temperatures could reach in excess of 45 degrees Celsius and the environment is constantly moist and humid. The outside climate in countries like Australia, South Africa or Russia can also be challenging with freezing temperatures in winter or searing desert heat in summer.

“When considering these conditions, equipment should be tested and certified with appropriate impact and ingress ratings, and this should be further evidenced and supported by the manufacturer through long product warranties. Reliable equipment ensures the system continues to do its job and the business continues to operate profitably whilst protecting its workforce” emphasized Mike Margrain, National Technical Manager for Gallagher in Australia.

Therefore, equipment, like mine cameras, needs to be ruggedized and customized to mining operations. Operators need sealed, waterproof units with vibration dampers, which can function over a wide temperature range. All cables need to be secured in airtight or waterproof material, preventing dust and other particles from damaging them. Explosion-proof devices must be installed with appropriate cable management systems.

Cabling technique for example is different for mines, since drilling or attaching cables to rock can only be done by engineering personnel. The solution is pre-installed infrastructure cabling that provides power and communications for conveyor systems or vehicle workshops to most underground points. 

Ensuring mine employee safety 

Employee safety is the primary concern in the harsh working environments in mines, and verifying authorized personnel is the first step in accomplishing this.

Access control at mines should only admit personnel who passed safety inductions, medical checks and training. Added features include license renewal and expiry notifications. Management is increasingly aware of the cost related to worker safety failures, loss of lives and loss of material and equipment. Other than passing government regulations, increasing the level of security and safety could save money, increase productivity, reduce losses in infrastructure and cut production downtime.

" In underground operations, it is paramount that the location of workers is known due to the elevated risk in these environments. Cardholder location tracking is implemented to ensure workers can be accounted for in the event of an emergency, or to safely manage underground blasting" explained Margrain and described how this works in the field: "Providing electronic ‘tagging’ stations and implementing long-range tracking of personnel ensures the control room operators not only know how many people are in locations underground, but in which area each worker resides. Integrating this data into firing procedures ensures explosives cannot be triggered until all personnel are accounted for in safe areas. Tagging portals which provide feedback to the worker with personal information (and photo ID images) provide peace of mind that the system has indeed logged their location as they travel to different areas while on shift. Furthermore, long-range tracking of workers can be employed in underground operations where travel is required in buses, light vehicles, or machinery. This ensures the location data can be captured without requiring personnel to exit vehicles in dangerous locations to present to a physical access point. The method of access credential utilized for this safety data becomes extremely important as the risk of missed movement can have real implications for personnel health and safety".

In addition to controlling access, monitoring the work zone is essential for protecting employees. The use of video surveillance underground helps to monitor miner safety by viewing rock falls or accidents in real time, speeding up search and rescue time, and help inhibit illegal activity such as theft or pirate miners. For large areas, radar integrated with video detects if a worker is in a hazardous area or is near hazardous materials or gases. It secures transport and storage of ammonia nitrate, explosives and other hazardous materials.

Should an accident occur, the operational health and safety (OH&S) solution must track miners by access control, sensors and RFID systems. The solution should generate “muster reports” quickly, providing the exact number of individuals in an area to the control room personnel at any given time.

Access control solutions in mines 

Access control in the mining and resources sector is generally used less for security and more to manage governance, risk, and compliance; “it’s all about protecting the safety of workers and ensuring business continuity, ”said Gallagher’s Margrain. "This includes managing personnel competencies to only allow access to those that hold active qualifications and inductions for the site, or within a particular onsite area.  Contractors may also perhaps only enter if they hold current insurance and have an active work order. In many countries, there are state or government legislated licenses that a worker must hold before they can work on a mining site. These competency level controls will differ depending on what role a worker has and where they are working — for example, there will be different enforcement rules for someone working underground, than those working only on the mine surface" he added.

"Fatigue is a significant risk to workers at an organization that operates 24/7, particularly to those who work night shifts or are working in dangerous environments. We see these rules being applied in more stringent ways for such personnel to prevent a worker from breaching fatigue policies during their shift. An access control system allows sites to quickly locate workers for risk assessments and a potential change of personnel – not only saving time, but also preventing disruption to the site. This type of management (with appropriate enforcement and proactive dynamic notifications) therefore becomes even more important for personnel that are working underground,” explained Margrain. To prevent theft, most attention is focused on access control and intrusion detection for storage, processing areas and areas where heavy machinery is present.

Whilst biometric access control has rapidly increased in popularity in recent years, the uptake in the mining and resources industry has been slow. The primary reasons for this are because daily work environments can impact the ability to reliably match workers via biometrics, due to workers becoming dirty or wearing PPE (personal protective equipment).

Video surveillance in mine security

Security requirements differ by the mine type. Open-pit mines are based on authority and risk levels and put emphasis on access control, while underground mines — with a higher requirement for safety — put emphasis on people location management. 

The large area of mines poses a challenge to security. Fencing and lighting might be very expensive, and even with the most comprehensive security solution installed, surveillance is not considered as a viable option for many underground mines, due to harsh conditions and extended tunnel length. Large mines can have hundreds of kilometers of tunnels, which simply cannot be effectively monitored by cameras.

Intrusion detection in mines

While priority areas depend on the site, a mine's security profile is generally developed from the outside in, making perimeter security the first concern. However, although perimeter fencing is important, it is often impractical due to the large and difficult landscape of mine sites.
Video surveillance can detect perimeter intrusion. Day and night cameras are suited for open areas with good light over long distances. Infrared cameras can perform close-range monitoring at low light entry and exit points. For dark outdoor areas, thermal imaging cameras can see intruders. 

Preventing equipment theft in mines

Some mine vehicles are worth millions of dollars and are costly for downtime and repairs, so monitoring and securing equipment is important. Other than asset tagging, sensor solutions such as onboard vehicle collision alert technology also help protect property. The collision alert system detects hazards in the vehicle's path and alerts drivers for potential collisions, preventing damage to the vehicle and protecting worker safety. Solutions like these provide invaluable production data feedback in difficult-to-reach areas. When integrated with access control, mine companies can make sure that only authorized personnel can operate the vehicle. The option of combined driver & vehicle identification increases security as you know exactly who was driving which vehicle.

Driver-based automatic vehicle identification (AVI) ensures that a vehicle can never leave, or get access to a secured area unless occupied by an authorized driver. Vehicle and driver access traditionally requires the driver to stop and badge or present their access card. This can often result in traffic congestion around access points/gates. Current solutions allow vehicles (both trucks and cars) to activate gates far enough in advance (up to 10m, at speeds up to 200 km/h) which eliminates the need for vehicles to stop, ensuring an uninterrupted flow of traffic. This is a notable feature for mining sites where it is disruptive to stop and start heavy machinery

Trends in mine security

The United States Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) maintains a database of all mine-related accidents and fatalities in the U.S. MSHA accident reports show that footage from video surveillance is often used in the forensic investigation of accidents. 

On May 2, 2020, Rodger A. Zimmerman, a 56-year-old front-end loader operator died when he was engulfed by material inside a collection container (hopper) at Enon Sand & Gravel mine. Zimmerman entered the hopper to clear a blockage caused by material inside the hopper. Once inside, a large amount of material dislodged, engulfing Zimmerman. Video evidence from the mine’s surveillance system verified entry into the hopper to dislodge blockage from underneath was a common practice and occurred repeatedly on previous days captured on the video. The surveillance video showed miners on the belt structure and/or inside the hopper not wearing safety belts or harnesses and not equipped with lifelines, while the belt was operating and without engaging in lock-out-tag-out (LOTO) procedures.

Today’s video analytics can be used to detect and stop this type of accident before happening. Video analytics can raise an alert when employees are getting too close to dangerous equipment or if they are not wearing the right safety equipment like a hard hat or safety harness. Hikvision for example installed a system in a coal mine in China that increased worker safety by monitoring the areas around winches and other equipment, and by sending alerts if employees get too close. The Hikvision solution was also configured to support specific mining-safety applications, such as constant monitoring of surface water levels in different areas of the mine. Constant seepage from rock formations means that surface water can accumulate in different areas of the mine, which is a problem in terms of potential flooding, damage to infrastructure, and worker safety risks. The Hikvision system monitors surface-water levels constantly and allows the mine staff to take action to deal with any problems that arise before water levels exceed safe limits.

Ai-driven video analytics are gaining traction as a means to minimize false alarms. Avigilon’s H4 Thermal camera for example is embedded with Avigilon self-learning video analytics to provide long-range perimeter protection and leverages thermal technology to operate under challenging conditions while minimizing false alarms. It detects the movement of people, vehicles and partly camouflaged objects in complete darkness or areas with challenging light conditions.

Security systems are also used to drive compliance with OH&S regulations. Access control manufacturer Gallagher allows cardholder information to be recorded in the Gallagher system and shared bi-directionally with existing HR/people management systems for accurate, real-time use. Staff records provide a full audit trail to ensure compulsory training and testing are undertaken. This minimizes corporate liability and enables organizations to meet their Duty of Care.

Mobile smartphone devices are commonly used to spot-check workers on-site (i.e., to validate they are trained and inducted to be where they are, or performing their current task), as well as being able to be used for mobile evacuation procedures and access control movements.

Compliance driving product requirements

Given the risks associated with mining operations, government legislation can be stringent but differ immensely in different parts of the world.  “We have seen an increase in concern around fatigue and exposure, and the need for reporting to assist with state levy calculations. Cases of corporate manslaughter against negligent management have certainly created more interest in systems which can demonstrate duty of care and protect workforces,” said Margrain. In many cases, not only do such system implementations meet those goals while ensuring business continuity, but they also demonstrate a reduction of operational cost through improved efficiency. Margrain recommended factoring this into vendor selection: "Having a system with governance, risk, and compliance solutions that can be tailored to meet changing requirements, without significant reinvestment, should be factored into vendor selection. By working with their vendor, sites operating in unique conditions like that of mining, can design a system that is tailored to the specific needs of their site and ensure health and safety requirements are met at the required level".

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asmag would like to extend a special thanks to Mike Margrain
for his knowledgable contributions to this article. 
Mike Margrain
National Technical Manager 
Gallagher 

 

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