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Traffic hazards on mines – More than road safety audits help?

road safety audits on mines help improve safety

If conducted on a regular basis, or whenever operational circumstances change significantly, road safety audits can assist mining organisations to minimise the risks for their road users, writes Damir Vagaja.

Wherever there is traffic, there are traffic hazards. This is particularly true on mines with specific issues such as in compatibility between vehicle types, fatigue, operational constraints, work pressures, inadequate road networks, etc.

In order to address traffic safety issues both on public roads as well as on mines, the four elements that constitute road transport systems: speed, road environment, vehicles and users. Each element needs to be understood and managed in a coordinated approach. Such a systematic approach is known as Safe System for addressing traffic hazards and reducing road trauma on public roads.

The system has human tolerance to physical forces at its basis and operates under the premise that road users should not be penalised with death or serious injury for innocent mistakes. Two of the key concepts of Safe System are that roads should be designed to minimise the chances of crashes occurring and to minimise injury to drivers who have been involved in a crash. Road safety audits (RSA) are one of the tools that are being used to achieve the system’s ambitious ‘zero harm’ targets.

Road safety auditing is a formalised safety assessment of a road’s safety performance and crash potential that should be carried out at various stages of the project life including design, construction as well post-construction (existing) phases. RSAs aim at identifying existing or potential road safety issues and suggesting design solutions or procedural improvements to address these issues.

A RSA is defined by Austroads as “…a formal examination of a future road or traffic project or an existing road, in which an independent, qualified team reports on the project’s crash potential and safety performance…” RSAs consider and apply the principles of the Safe System approach in a proactive manner as opposed to, for example, incident investigations which tend to be reactive in addressing traffic safety issues.

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Road safety auditing has been used on public road networks for a number of years and is now recognised as a valuable and proactive tool for reducing road trauma. In recent years it has been successfully applied in improving safety at numerous mining operations across Australia.

The benefits of road safety auditing

Road safety is recognised as one of the major risk areas on mining operations in Australia and abroad. As part of a systematic approach for improving safety on mines, the safety of road users should be one of the primary areas addressed by mining organisations.

However, roads are often seen as ‘associated’ features of mining operations without a full appreciation of their importance for safe and efficient movements of the mining vehicle fleet. As a result, mining operations often give insufficient consideration to appropriate road design, construction and maintenance methods.

The application of experiences gained from auditing public roads to road networks and vehicle operating areas on mine sites allows the development of comprehensive road improvement strategies that go beyond meeting the minimum requirements specified by relevant design standards.

Traffic networks on mine sites and public roads are different in many ways but they share a number of common elements with the most obvious one being the drivers. They operate vehicles on both networks, so it is important to ensure that roads and vehicle operating areas on mine sites are designed and constructed to the same safety level and standardised format that drivers are used to encounter in the public domain.

Many of the traffic hazards on mine sites are similar to those on public roads, but magnified by the physical size of the operating equipment, condition of the roads, the nature of the tasks being undertaken, the mix of different vehicles, nature of the work, and others.

Mining operations have an opportunity to address traffic risks through their influence and direct control of policies (traffic management systems), infrastructure, equipment and personnel. If addressed systematically, the exposure to potential hazardous situations within mine road networks can be reduced.

Mine management is in the position to ensure that roads are designed to relevant standards, traffic management plans and procedures are implemented and followed, safest vehicles and equipment are used, and training is provided to vehicle operators thus, effectively, creating a Safe System environment in which a ‘zero harm’ target is achievable.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions and efforts, things do go wrong and often it is found that the simplest things that could have been changed are those that would have possibly prevented an accident or incident occurring. This is where RSAs have a practical application on mine sites.

In order to provide the biggest benefits, road safety auditing should be considered as an intrinsic component of project development and a critical element of an effective and robust traffic management framework.

By developing an implementation plan based on the recommendations from an RSA report, mine operators have an opportunity to:

  • Reduce the likelihood of road crashes;
  • Reduce the severity of crash outcomes;
  • Increase the awareness of road safety amongst designers, planners and road managers;
  • Reduce the need for costly remedial measures thus reducing overall life-of-project costs; and,
  • Benefit communities by reducing crashes, disruptions, shut downs, trauma, and costs.

The application of RSAs on mines

RSAs achieve best outcomes if conducted throughout road project developments, from the concept design stage to the commissioning stage. The earlier the potential issues, and remedial measures, are identified, the lesser:

  • Are the chances that unsafe features will become incorporated in designs and become unchangeable; and,
  • The costs of remedial measures will be.

RSAs can, and should, be undertaken at various project development stages, such as the:

  • Feasibility stage;
  • Preliminary design stage;
  • Detailed design stage; and,
  • Pre-opening stage.

It is, however, most common for RSAs to be conducted on existing road networks when their commissioning has been triggered by events such as increase in the frequency of near misses, hazard reports, inspections by legislators, and, unfortunately, crashes.

The main traffic hazard areas that are addressed during audits of mine sites include:

  • Interaction between light vehicles, heavy vehicles and pedestrians;
  • Parking arrangements;
  • Speed management;
  • Road design, road layout and intersections;
  • Signs, delineation and lighting; and,
  • Transportation management systems (i.e. documentation and processes).

Conducting RSAs on mines

In order to achieve the most out of an RSA, it is important that an appropriate audit team is selected.

While there are no requirements for specific accreditation and experience level, and similarly when carrying out audits on mine sites (as opposed to public roads), clients should ensure that the audit team members have adequate experience in the areas of traffic safety, traffic engineering and management, road design and construction or road user behaviour but with a good understanding and appreciation of the specific conditions on mining operations.

Prior to the commencement of a site visit, the audit team and the client should agree on the scope, deliverables and timeframes to avoid misaligned expectations. It is also preferable that the relevant site documentation be provided to the audit team for review prior to the site visit.

Once on site, the audit team should be escorted at all times by an experienced person who is able to provide background information about the operation. This will ensure that clients benefit not only from implementing the provided recommendations but also from gaining an understanding of the context under which specific recommendations have been developed.

The audit team should take large amounts of visual records and notes about their observations. While some areas will be adequately covered by just driving through, other locations may require the team to walk through or even to spend time at observing traffic movements.

Site visits should also include night-time inspections. There are a number of issues, predominantly related to visibility of roads and associated features, which can only be observed under artificial lighting conditions.

Road safety audit reporting


Following the site visit, the audit team starts working on the audit report which includes all the findings, usually stating what the associated risks are, and recommendations for addressing specific issues.

The recommendations from the report are summarised in a tabulated form called a corrective actions report (CAR). The CAR provides an opportunity for clients to initiate a review of the audit recommendations.

During the review of the recommendations it is important that an internal risk assessment be conducted, particularly with issues that have been deemed as more critical. This review and risk assessment assists the operations with the development of an action plan based on priorities of importance.

When carrying out a review of the recommendations from road safety audit reports, clients should be aware of auditors’ limitations. For example, auditors will most likely lack a detailed understanding of all operational conditions or other existing plans that may exist. Furthermore, by their nature, road safety audits will focus mainly on road safety issues. Consequently, clients need to translate the findings into a workable action plan that takes all considerations into account.

Responding to road safety audit reports


The CAR table includes columns where clients can note their acceptance of each recommendation, or note those recommendations that have not been accepted. There can be numerous reasons why a recommendation is not accepted, such as:

  • Budgetary constraints;
  • Addressing other, more urgent issues;
  • Operational reasons; or,
  • Considering alternative solutions to the identified finding.

However, if a recommendation is not accepted, as a formal response to the audit findings, clients should include a comment in the table as to why it has not been accepted.

Whatever the reasons for not accepting a recommendation are, it is important that clients understand the risks associated with the findings and appreciate the intent behind the recommendation. This could result in alternative solutions developed by the client (to be documented in the CAR).

Clients should be aware that there are certain implications stemming from commissioning a road safety audit. As a fictitious scenario: in a legal proceeding following a road crash, a mining operation could argue that they have not been aware of certain features that may have been identified during a formal investigation as contributing factors. While this position would certainly be difficult, it would be even more difficult if the investigation uncovered that a road safety audit had been conducted in the past and that a contributing feature had been raised as a potential issue which the client decided not to act upon, or provide an acceptable explanation for this decision.

When commissioning a road safety audit, be aware that you have been made aware!

Road safety auditing of design drawings


A similar process to that described above is carried out when auditing design drawings. The site visit is replaced by a meeting between the audit team and the designers. This is the opportunity for the design team to outline the design process, assumptions, principles, standards, etc. enabling the auditors to gain a better appreciation of the design and to adjust the auditing process accordingly.

In both approaches to auditing, good communication between the parties must be established and maintained if the audit is to be done effectively and without wasted time and effort. Designers and clients need to consider audit findings or recommendations objectively and gain from the experience, and recognise that the project helps avoid their project being constructed with safety problems which are much more expensive to fix later on.

Ongoing road safety auditing


The two auditing scenarios described previously, i.e. auditing of existing roads or new road design plans are the most typical applications of road safety auditing.

However, as the appreciation of the importance and benefits of road safety auditing increases amongst mining operators, it can be expected that road safety audits would be conducted on a continual basis to ensure that the achievements in road safety do not deteriorate.

As such, it is important to implement a program of auditing on a regular basis (i.e. every one or two years) and to focus on developments on mining operations that are likely to have a significant impact on the traffic management. These developments could include changes in:

  • The composition or size of the vehicle fleet;
  • Road networks;
  • Mining methods; or,
  • Relevant corporate policies, etc.

Recurring road safety auditing should become part of an overall site auditing schedule to ensure that risks for road users on mining road networks continue to be minimal and adequately managed.

Standards

There is a frequent belief amongst those that are not fully conversant with traffic safety experience that preparing a design in accordance with applicable standards and accepted guidelines will result in outcomes that meet all safety requirements and
legal obligations.

From this belief stems the frequent observation made by site people that ‘this is how I have seen it built on the main road and hence it must be good for our roads, too’. It should be appreciated that although public road owners are often aware of unsafe features on their networks they simply lack the funds to remedy them all at once. They usually set up a prioritisation list and allocate their funds accordingly. The reality is that there will always be unsafe features on public roads and these should not be used as examples or benchmarks.

Although it is appreciated that standards are an important starting point and that many safety issues would be eliminated if standards are followed, this does not guarantee a safe outcome.

It should be recognised that standards, including those relating to road design, do not warrant a safe outcome as they often define the minimum requirements, nor cover all circumstances and design requirements, and have not been developed specifically with safety considerations in mind. There are also numerous instances where standards do not exist.

For these reasons, road safety audits are not restricted to checking compliance with standards. Their intention is to ensure that safety is not compromised. They consider individual features in the context of the entire system and not purely on their own.

Conclusions

Road safety auditing can be a very effective tool for improving safety on mining roads. Adopting the principles of road safety auditing on public roads and modifying them to suit the specific mining applications, road safety issues can be identified in a proactive manner.

The audits should be conducted throughout the design stages of road construction projects as well as on existing road networks. The benefits increase when auditing is conducted at the very early project stages so that the need for costly remedial works is reduced.

It is important that audits are conducted by a team of experienced auditors with full support by mining personnel.

The audit findings, as presented in a road safety audit report, should be considered and reviewed by site management. Risk assessments should be conducted prior to deciding on the best course of action.

Clients have the option of not accepting any of the provided recommendations. However, they should provide and document a formal response to the audit noting the reasons for not accepting specific recommendations.

If conducted on a regular basis, or whenever operational circumstances change significantly, road safety audits can assist mining organisations to minimise the risks for their road users.

Damir Vagaja

Damir Vagaja is ARRB’s Manager Mining and Resources and a Senior Traffic Engineer with extensive skills and experience in carrying out road safety assessments and traffic management studies for mining and resource processing operations. He has participated in more than 80 projects across Australia giving him not only a broad understanding of pertinent issues relating to road and traffic safety but also exposure to practices and policies used by individual operations.

Damir is an accredited Senior Road Safety Auditor.

ARRB Group was founded as a research organisation in 1960 and is now a leading provider of research, consulting and technology addressing transport problems. ARRB’s expertise in managing roads, integrating transport, improving safety of road users and assessing vehicle dynamics has been successfully applied to mining road networks contributing to improved workplace health and safety, extended life of roads and productivity improvements.

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AMSJ Nov 2021