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Prioritizing safety in an autonomous future

safety in an autonomous future
Prioritizing safety in an autonomous future

In new safety guidance on autonomous systems, the Global Mining Guidelines Group urges companies to adopt a comprehensive change-management approach. Potential procedural conflicts between staffed and automated operations need to be addressed for technology to stay safe. In our latest Mining Matters podcast, Craig Ross of Ross SH Consulting and Hexagon’s Mining Division VP-Autonomous, Andrew Crose, discuss strategies for navigating this shift to an integrated safety ecosystem.

Guideline for Applying Functional Safety to Autonomous Systems in Mining

Mining automation project | underground loaders

Q: Craig, you have 30-plus years of experience in the industry. For seven years, you were V.P. of safety and health at Barrick. You spent much of that time working to improve safety. What procedural conflicts could you see arising between manned and automated operations that need to be addressed for technology to stay safe?

CR: Yes, a very interesting question, especially when at Barrick, we were pursuing the autonomous venture quite strongly. And one of the things that I noticed that started to bother me in the beginning is the desire to immediately jump from what we were doing in manned operations to jump completely over to autonomous operations and really forcing the issue. And the problem that I had with it is the general risk-management approach was to isolate the autonomous fleet or operations from any people, which would require that any human interaction with the autonomous fleet would require complete shutdown of the autonomous operation. And to me, that wasn’t feasible, because when you start really looking at the operation and the things that need to occur in conjunction with the operating practice, the risk was being managed by isolation when we should be looking at how we manage the risk with humans around, which is much more difficult and one of the reasons I liked Hexagon’s approach—we’ll talk about later.

Q: Andrew, in your work with Hexagon in South Africa, you’ve worked closely with Anglo American, who are going beyond just compliance with the Zero Harm initiative. How are they using safety technologies to manage risk and instil organizational change?

AC: So, across the Anglo portfolio of mines, we’re working with many of them on different technologies and different implementations. It’s nice that they take a very holistic approach to it, so across maybe sites we’re working with them on their fatigue management and driver-distraction program. And in some regards, these have been some of the initial implementations we’ve done in our OAS fatigue program. We’re finding the algorithm, improving the system, and making it more user friendly. And the same, we’ve also developed alongside their mines and others are our collision-avoidance system all the way through the auto-braking. And it’s interesting going on the journey with them because they’re, you know, they’re a very innovative group and have a lot of great ideas they bring to the table. They look at the system holistically. I mean, not just the technology, but the change management, the implementation, how it gets accepted by the operations, how it gets accepted by the unions and the communities. It’s been a really good journey for us working with them.

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AMSJ April 2022