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Time To Get Your Head In The Cloud

Jeffrey Ling explains how electronic inspection and safety compliance management is transforming the mining industry.

Safety management in any industry can quickly lead to stacks of paperwork, processes that are open to human error, and guesswork on compliance matters. Keeping track of assets – persons, places or things – is necessary for achieving safety goals, but it can overwhelm even the most organised safety manager without proper systems in place.

With this thinking in mind, you could say that mine safety professionals have something in common with accountants.

In accounting, you have internal accountants, external auditors and a regulatory or governing body that ensures certain standards are being enforced.

In the mine safety world, there’s a combination of internal company inspectors and safety managers, third party inspectors and certifiers and governing bodies who audit your processes.

Accountants learnt the value of digitised record management very early on. Rarely will you see accountants doing important work with a pencil and paper. And every day, more and more mine safety professionals are throwing away their clipboards and implementing electronic solutions.

Today many mining companies are realising the benefits of digital safety management, inspections and facility audits. Safety professionals within these companies face an incredible opportunity to achieve safety goals and set their own standards for excellence.

Traditional Safety & Compliance Problems In Mining

WORKING-LAYOUT-2Mine safety managers face some of the most unique problems among any industrial or commercial operation. Eff­ective safety management involves ongoing attention to all of the assets that make up an operation, and the safety system itself.

Here are just a few examples:

Persons:       Are miners properly trained to identify hazards or in need of any certifications? Or, is this person qualified to operate this machinery?

Places:          When was this facility/site last inspected or audited? What elements of this facility passed or failed based on inspection or audit criteria?

Things:          Have all safety harnesses been inspected for damage? Does this personal protective equipment item need replacement?

Answering questions like those above can be problematic, especially if you’re relying on traditional safety management techniques. Next, we’re going to break down the top issues created by traditional safety management approaches in mining, and then we’ll look at how to overcome these challenges.

 Asset identification

The first step in effective safety management and compliance is identifying assets – whether they are persons, places or things – that must be tracked within an operation for training, inspection or safety auditing purposes.

Traditionally, inspectors would look for serial numbers on a piece of equipment or keep paper records regarding workers or facility audits. Unfortunately, serial numbers can be read and/or recorded incorrectly from time to time, and paper records in a rugged or industrial environment can easily become dirty and unreadable. In cases where audits involve keeping track of worker skills, training or certifications, paper records can contribute to inefficiencies in the safety management system.

Inspection and audit scheduling
Many safety directors and managers at mining companies must track records for thousands of scheduled events and operational details, including inspections and audits, worker certifications and training levels, and any number of items relating to safety gear, equipment and people. In a mining work environment, some assets may require daily inspections, some may need annual inspections or re-certification, and some might need special attention that falls outside of a normal inspection or audit schedule. Keeping track of scheduled inspections and audits, and maintaining statuses for hundreds or thousands of assets, can quickly become a manager’s worst nightmare in rugged environments.

Compliance guesswork
 Safety compliance is a complicated matter. Knowing what compliance criteria apply to which assets can be a challenge, especially in the field. The number of government regulations, corporate policies and manufacturers’ suggestions that need to be referenced is enough to drive even the most competent safety manager crazy. Recalling such important information in the field, without access to important reference material, can lead to inaccurate safety procedures and guess work.

Time consumption
Identifying an asset, figuring out which inspection criteria is appropriate, recording inspections and audit details, and then sorting and storing the records are extremely time-consuming processes. Often the workload of several safety staff­ falls onto the shoulders of a single safety manager. An inspection or audit doesn’t stop in the field; backend administration and storage of safety information is an all-consuming, never-ending task for some operations.

Unmanageable Paperwork
Properly managing safety compliance for lists of people, places and things requires an audit trail that must be maintained on an ongoing basis, accounting for each and every piece of equipment, person, structure or facility in the books.

This “paperwork” doesn’t just include internal inspections and audits; third-party inspection information, certifications and manufacturer documentation must be tracked as well. Managing paperwork from di­fferent sources, storing and filling it, and tracking down individual records when needed can be extremely frustrating. One of the biggest problems to overcome is being able to quickly and accurately present this paperwork, often in a very short time frame, to a government auditor or, even worse, an accident investigator.

A “rock burst” is something you may not be able to predict or control, but you can control and manage an eff­ective system tracking persons, places and things affecting the safety of your operations. With the right approach and techniques, you can be ready for anything – whether it’s a surprise inspection or an unanticipated event. The larger your operations get, the more assets that need to be managed effectively in order to achieve this state of constant readiness.

Verification and proof
Unfortunately, there are circumstances under which anyone responsible for safety may be called on to produce proof of inspections and safety checks of various types. With the old “paper and pen” system, the e­ffectiveness and accuracy of a safety management program can be questioned.

There have even been cases when companies were accused of falsifying records – a very serious allegation that calls for a better solution to the verification and proof of safety inspections, audits and recorded events.

Using Mobile & Web-Based Safety Systems In Mining

Many industries have turned to new technology to solve problems and issues created by traditional processes. Safety professionals worldwide are waking up to the power of cloud-based software when it comes to managing safety and compliance. Large and small companies can take advantage of technology to improve operations and safety compliance right now.

The use of the internet, mobile devices and electronic identification (ie, RFID) technology is revolutionising how mining safety management professionals do their jobs.

Managing compliance does not have to be difficult as it once was, especially with the tools available for completing tasks such as onsite inspections and instantaneous audit reports. Safety leaders from various industries are experiencing the instant benefits of automation, digital tracking and record-keeping, and secure cloud computing, which takes the pain of information storage out of the picture and makes your information available to you from your office, in the field, or anywhere else you might need to access it.

The following sections will walk you through the tools available and illustrate how to replace traditional safety compliance methods with new, efficient safety management technologies.

Use electronic identification for inspections and audits
The first step in safety compliance is asset identification. While identifying equipment assets using serial numbers is still practiced, safety professionals are recognising that tagging assets with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips or using barcodes can save time and improve efficiency.

Industry-leading companies are manufacturing RFID-enabled products, such as harnesses, that work in conjunction with cloud-based safety management.

In many cases, human error can be eliminated by scanning electronic identifiers for instant inspection and auditing purposes. Using barcodes and RFID technology saves times at the point of identification and during later analysis, auditing and reporting.

Use mobile devices to collect data in the field
Clipboards, pens and paper are fading away as mobile and web-based safety management tools become easier to use and more widely adopted. The accessibility of a­ffordable cloud computing – using both desktop and portable devices such as smartphones and tablet devices – has made the efficient gathering and management of field inspection data and attractive and worthwhile while goal for managers of simple and complex operations. Handheld computers, tablets and mobile phones can completely digitise the inspection and auditing process.

These days, tablets and touchscreen phones are fully equipped to scan RFID tags and barcodes, and they make it easy to record data quickly in the field. An inspector or safety manager can instantly access an asset’s history, review scheduled events, conduct QA/QC checks, or walk through safety inspection criteria. Mobile devices can reduce total inspection time, provide instant access to auditing information, and ensure no time is wasted, or criteria missed.

Not only does this inspection process create paperless tasks and records, but it reduces guesswork and eliminates errors.

Use the cloud to manage safety data
Storing safety data without hassle and presenting it in a timely manner are the key benefits to rolling out electronic inspection and safety compliance systems.

When an inspection is conducted using a mobile computer, all data can be safely stored and automatically transferred to a secure web-based system. This transfer can occur in real-time when inspectors are located in environments with cellular or wireless internet access, or the transfer can happen at a later time, by simply ‘syncing’ with the cloud.

With online safety management, all documentation, certifications and reports can be generated automatically, or customised to account for the individual needs of a worker or manager. The backend administration, scanning of paperwork, and manual data entry that resulted in so many errors years ago is no longer necessary.

Today, safety professionals never have to worry about keeping backups of records, storing or filing paperwork, or whether the information is incorrect or incomplete. While human involvement in the inspection process has become more convenient, it’s also become more accurate.

Achieve 24/7 safety compliance readiness
With electronic inspection and safety compliance management, your organisation is always ready to present safety data. Using mobile and web-based technologies within your operations helps you to achieve safety automation and 24/7 readiness.

A mine safety director or manager, or even authorised individual team members, can instantly access inspection and auditing information on any single piece of equipment, training or certification information for any worker quality assurance and audit information for outputs of an operation, or for an entire facility or operation.

If an inspector needs to view a safety audit trail for any asset, it’s a simple matter of scanning an electronic ID tag to produce its entire audit trail, typing in a name to get an update on worker certifications, or entering a job site number to view recorded facility inspections and related information. A process that used to take up to two weeks, or even longer, can now be done with only a few clicks – on the web or in the field.

Build digital verification and proof into your safety management system
Using electronic inspection and safety compliance management reinforces the accuracy of all safety information collected and stored throughout an operation. It provides assurances of the date, time, location and even pictures recorded during field inspection processes.

Using timestamps, GPS location, digital signatures, electronic identification and detailed digital records can reinforce the quality of all information gathered in the field. These details don’t take additional time to record in the field, as mobile devices can automatically capture certain details with very little effort from users.

At the end of the day, advances in digital technology can help assure third party inspectors that no record falsification has taken place, and safety managers can have confidence in the quality of their safety management procedures and records.

Summary

Electronic inspection and safety compliance management is a fast and reliable solution to the challenges faced by safety professionals in mining. It can increase efficiencies, reduce liability and save money and time. Most importantly, adopting electronic inspection and safety compliance management tools helps to create safer workplaces.

Taking advantage of the latest technology in electronic inspection and safety compliance solutions means following these guidelines:

  • Use electronic identification for inspections and audits
  • Use mobile devices to collect data in the field
  • Use the cloud to manage safety data
  • Achieve 24/7 safety compliance readiness
  • Build digital verification and proof into your safety management system.

The first step is throwing out your clipboards.

The rest is easy.

This white paper has been published with kind permission of Master Lock and FIELD iD.

Jeffrey Ling

Jeffrey Ling is a marketing manager for Master Lock Field iD. He has been with Master Lock since 2010 and recently joined the Field iD division to drive sales and brand awareness.  He can be reached at jling@mlock.com.

“The number of government regulations, corporate policies and manufacturers’ suggestions that need to be referenced is enough to drive even the most competent safety manager crazy.”

“Safety professionals worldwide are waking up to the power of cloud-based software when it comes to managing safety and compliance.”

“With the old “paper and pen” system, the e­ffectiveness and accuracy of a safety management program can be questioned.”

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AMSJ April 2022