Why safety technology is crucial to achieving zero harm in metals and mining
Protecting workers is always a top priority at metals and mining companies. Karl Simons, OBE, Executive Director of Health, Safety and Wellbeing at FYLD, explains the changing role of technology in keeping employees safe.
12 October 2021
There’s little doubt that safety is a top priority in the metals and mining industry. As zero harm policies continue to gain traction, major companies are taking proactive steps to protect workers from injuries of all kinds.
This commitment to employee welfare is apparent in the Axora Innovation Forecast, which surveyed over 150 senior decision makers on the key issues in the industry. Overall, respondents ranked safety as the third highest business priority, and those that were currently addressing the issue with technology saw significant benefits. Safety monitoring solutions offered the greatest benefit to companies on average, while products that measured driver fatigue also saw significant adoption rates.
While there is considerable work still to be done in terms of mining health and safety, harm prevention for individuals on mine sites has come a very long way.
Despite promising results, though, most respondents have yet to take advantage of safety technology. Only 41 percent used digital solutions to prevent accidents, while 33 percent adopted technology to reduce injury claims. Even as developers introduce a host of new products, many organisations continue to run on outdated systems, with some still taking a paper-based approach to applications like monitoring.
So how can metals and mining companies fully embrace safety technology as part of their zero harm strategies?
A step on the path to zero harm
To find out, we spoke to Karl Simons, OBE, Executive Director of Health, Safety and Wellbeing at FYLD, an AI-driven field service management solution. A leader with more than 30 years’ experience – industry publication Safety and Health Practitioner named him their most influential person in health and safety in 2019 – Simons has witnessed the evolution of safety and its relationship to technology firsthand.
For him, the Innovation Forecast results are a sign of progress. In an industry where regulations and priorities vary depending on the region, metals and mining companies have still made major strides in reducing hazards and protecting workers.
"Industry health and safety has evolved over the years, but standards, compliance and culture still differ widely across the globe,” says Simons. “While there is considerable work still to be done in terms of mining health and safety, harm prevention for individuals on mine sites has come a very long way.”
Simons attributes this success in part to the effectiveness of the United Kingdom’s safety model. At the heart of this approach, he explains, is a diligent method of ascertaining the key hazards in each facility, then developing a tailored set of control measures accordingly. Taking these steps has revolutionised incident and injury prevention, and now technology promises to take these results one step further.
Industry decision-makers have shown a strong willingness to conduct trials and take innovative steps forward in the interest of safety
Rather than simply identifying dangerous conditions and prescribing actions to mitigate them, solutions like the one offered by FYLD condition users to avoid hazardous behaviours and adopt safer ones. Not only does this reduce the chance of human error, but it also helps workers develop more effective practices. In this way, safety technology augments human capabilities without replacing them altogether.
“I don’t believe that artificial intelligence signifies the removal of the human, but rather a means of aiding human capabilities in areas like decision-making,” says Simons. “Adopting the right digital technologies is the key to simultaneously enhancing both safety and efficiency.”
The growing appetite
Those enhancements are starting to catch the attention of the metals and mining industry. While safety has traditionally been a cultural and operational concern, solutions like FYLD’s have made it a technological issue as well. As safety products become more intuitive, demand for them continues to grow. When asked how companies are responding to these solutions, Simons answers that the results are promising so far.
“When looking at industry leaders, there’s an appetite to adopt digital solutions that can enhance safety within the workplace,” he says. “Industry decision-makers have shown a strong willingness to conduct trials and take innovative steps forward in the interest of safety.”
But despite the growing appetite for digital safety solutions in recent years, Simons notes that very few have completely revolutionised workplace safety. Ultimately, communication and technology design must be tailored to specific sites. By building on the fundamentals of the UK safety model – identifying and mitigating the particular hazards of each environment – solution providers can create better, more responsive products.
"At FYLD, we tailor our AI safety solution to specific safety observations made by the experts themselves on site,” Simons says. “This provides a dynamic, end-to-end way of mitigating risk.”
Many companies have not moved quickly enough to adopt these latest tech-driven capabilities and are still making do with solutions that provide insights monthly
Part of that means ensuring that solutions can easily integrate into existing environments and processes. Developers must not only design solutions to offer real-world insights to decision-makers; they must also present the technology in a way that’s both understandable and responsive.
Time is of the essence here. Simons offers the example of FYLD’s dashboard, which shows users live data that communicates how the solution is ensuring worker safety. When developers harness the real-time capabilities of technologies like AI, he adds, they provide new value to potential customers.
“Many companies have not moved quickly enough to adopt these latest tech-driven capabilities and are still making do with solutions that provide insights monthly,” says Simons. “The slower adopters of digital solutions simply haven’t yet been introduced to the right option for their organisation, or they have remained loyal to a now outdated approach.”
The future of safety technology in metals and mining
At this point, the next three years look bright for safety technology. Increased appetite will naturally drive further implementation in metals and mining, but Simons predicts that a new wave of innovation initiatives will help these solutions proliferate at an even faster pace.
It is vital to drive a positive message around intervention, while also deploying technologies that speed up monitoring and the alerting of critical teams
“Major capital programmes are starting to support accelerators, offering investment opportunities to start-ups that encourage growth and innovation,” he says. “Programmes like these will fuel both innovation and adoption of digital safety solutions into the future.”
But safety won’t cease to be a cultural concern as these solutions spread throughout the industry, and Simons warns metals and mining companies that setting a positive tone toward safety will continue to be of paramount importance.
“It’s always been essential that safety is viewed in a positive way, and that individuals and teams are praised for raising awareness to potential hazards,” he says. “Therefore, it is vital to drive a positive message around intervention, while also deploying technologies that speed up monitoring and the alerting of critical teams.”
When companies reconcile the cultural and technological aspects of safety, metals and mining companies will be able to prevent harm in previously unimagined ways. For an industry where minimising harm is always a primary concern, this represents a bold new way of putting safety first.
Read more about digital transformation trends among metals and mining companies in the Axora Innovation Forecast, which surveyed 150 senior industry decision makers. Get your copy here.
Learn more, explore our insights and reports
Is Industry 4.0 the answer to mining’s safety problems?If the industry wants to achieve zero harm, it needs to adopt new technologies and a new way of anticipating incidents, says GOARC COO Haim Srur.
20 April 2021
AI-based predictive maintenance that reduces unplanned plant downtime
What industry-specific challenges are you facing right now? Talk to us so we can find proven solution to help you.