In safety, one size doesn't fit all - safe ways of working are built shift by shift, day by day and over time. This requires leadership, investment and an unwavering commitment to eliminating fatalities. ICMM members, through our Mining Principles, share a commitment to pursuing continual improvement in physical and psychological health and safety performance towards an ultimate goal of zero harm.
Last year, tragically, 43 people from ICMM company members lost their lives at work.
It is deeply saddening to see that, almost every year, a majority of these fatalities are being caused by vehicle and mobile equipment interactions (13 in 2021 and 8 in both 2020 and 2019). As a health and safety professional who has spent 10 years in mining operations in Southern and Central Africa, this topic means a lot to me personally. I know I share the values of our entire industry when I say - there is nothing more important than all friends and colleagues going home safely at the end of the day.
Mining undoubtedly has its risks. It involves the use of heavy machinery and equipment that can cause serious accidents if not operated correctly, but with the correct protocols, it is wholly possible to manage potential risks. When it comes to vehicle interactions, these critical controls can prevent collisions or other accidents between vehicles and equipment on the mining site, ensuring the safety of workers.
To reduce, and ultimately prevent this kind of fatality from a mine site happening, operators can benefit from embracing technological innovation but - most importantly - complement it with performance-led improvements. This is one of the reasons why ICMM launched the Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV) initiative, which brings together ICMM members, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and technology suppliers to collaborate in a non-competitive space to accelerate the development of a new generation of safer mining vehicles and improve existing ones.
Specifically on safety, members are working in partnership with OEMs and technology suppliers to promote collision avoidance technology capable of eliminating fatalities from vehicle interactions to be available to mining companies by 2025. These technologies have the potential to greatly reduce the risk of fatal collisions, but they are not a silver bullet. If we are to reach our objective of zero harm, we must not lose sight of the importance of monitoring and seeking improvements wherever needed in operating discipline and performance.
Addressing operational risk is critically important, as while technology can play a vital role in enhancing vehicle interaction in mining operations, relying too heavily on technology can also pose certain risks.
Technology is not infallible and can malfunction or fail, and so if the person operating the technology becomes less vigilant and attentive to their surroundings, or has a false sense of security, they might not be able to respond effectively when a malfunction occurs. This has to be guarded against, both during operation and maintenance.
Driver aids such as cameras and sensors that are specifically designed to actively enhance visibility can also have their own blind spots or limitations that may not always be apparent to operators.
Don't get me wrong, the development of technologies capable of improving vehicle interactions are certainly critical, as they will help to make vehicle operation easier and more efficient, but we must be vigilant in not becoming complacent.
To help companies start a conversation on how to progress action on promoting operational and technological innovations, ICMM has developed a Maturity Framework to determine an operation's current and future desired status, and help companies to comprehensively and steadily work through the maturity levels on their sites to achieve their future desired status.
These materials are supported by a knowledge hub with industry case studies and other technical documents that show what good looks like.
Learnings to take forward - from technology-centric to "capable solutions"
Maintaining a strong understanding of the risks of vehicle interaction is critical to the management of a sustainable mining operation. To improve then maintain performance, operations must transition from a technology centric view to one that considers ‘capable solutions'.
Capable solutions combine the right technology with the adequate training and process focused on specific cases considering site characteristics. This includes providing appropriate training and education to operators, maintaining a robust maintenance and repair programme for all technology installed, and having backup protocols in place in the event of a technology failure.
Companies should also be expected to continue to prioritise other layers of controls to enhance safety and efficiency at the mining site. This balanced approach is well defined within the 9-layer EMESRT (Earth Moving Equipment Safety Roundtable) approach on vehicle interaction.
This expectation is also grounded in the findings of ICMM's ‘Fatality Prevention: Eight lessons learned' report, which recognises the importance of setting the right safety tone at the top for a progressive health and safety culture, and demanding that all levels of leadership, from the Board down to on-site supervisors, champion the tone through their own actions.
Just as we can't rely on technology alone, we must not rest on our laurels when it comes to reducing vehicle collisions. There are always improvements to be made.
ICMM's future work in this area aims to achieve breakthrough progress on eliminating fatalities; exploring the root causes of why harm continues to occur, and hunt for the next step change. We will also continue our work on reducing Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM) emissions and our journey to introduce zero GHG emission mining vehicles as part of our Innovation for Cleaner Safer Vehicles initiative (ICSV).