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Beacon of Safety


The wide world of technology is ever-growing and never ceases to amaze, especially when new and innovative technologies are adapted to create a safe and productive industry. Michael Jones writes about beacon proximity sensing making our mines safer.

Bluetooth beacons are a rapidly growing technology spanning pretty much every business sector. Looking to the future, more and more consumer devices will become equipped with low energy Bluetooth connectivity as the Internet of Things (IoT) evolves. What this will mean is that pretty much everything around us will be interconnected and have the ability to make autonomous decisions. This will enable us to improve workplace environments, particularly in the area of safety.

The mining industry can benefit greatly right now from this technology in many and varied ways. Beacon technology is relatively simple in principle. A beacon is simply a miniature radio transmitter that is very efficient, requiring minimal power consumption which allows it to operate for up to two years on coin cell batteries.

Each beacon transmits a unique signature which is used to identify itself. By measuring the strength of the signal being received, the distance to the beacon can be established. Because each beacon has a unique identifier it can represent the asset, person or place attached to it.

The second part of the equation is to have a device capable of receiving the signal and translating it into who or what it represents. From here, information systems can make a decision and/or a response determined by the identification and strength of the signal.

So how does that help mining?

Well, we can apply various logic to the quantity, combination, and status of beacons present at a location. From this information, a considerable range of ‘smarts’ can be achieved.

A pretty intuitive application of this technology is to implement automated safety zones. This type of implementation allows a machine to react to a miner’s presence by switching off when it detects a beacon signal exceeding a predetermined level. In other words, if a worker gets too close to the machine, it will automatically turn off.

We can employ more sophistication by creating rules whereby a machine will only operate if a licenced/qualified person is present. Furthermore, let’s say we need someone to observe the machinery being used from a safe distance – the same technique can be applied. The machine can now also require the detection of another person at a safe distance (nearby but no closer than the specified safe distance) before it will operate.

An emergency function could also be incorporated into the beacon that, when pressed, will turn the machine off remotely.

Beacons can also be used to monitor vehicles and driving behaviours. Vehicle monitoring systems are commonplace on mining sites, however, beacons can provide functionality over and above current systems.

For example, all personnel getting into vehicles can be recognised from their beacons and recorded – not just the driver. The same system can monitor the usual driving behaviour, along with acting proactively to avoid dangerous situations. For example, let’s say a vehicle moves too close to machinery or people. When such tolerance is exceeded, the system can alarm within the cab in conjunction with stopping the machinery and/or alerting the person(s) in danger.

Another simple application can be detecting the presence of vehicles arriving at the workshop for maintenance. The system queues the vehicle automatically as it arrives.

Rapidly determining the location of who and what on site can be mean difference between life and death. Consider a worker is buried in a landslide – their beacon can identify where rescuers should dig.

Constant intelligence can be available as to the dispersion of people and assets to assist in the logistics of operations. Behaviours can be analysed along with retrospective analysis of incidents to see what set of spatial behaviours occurred to see if the circumstance can be avoided in future. It can, of course, be used to model movement in general, such as hot spot mapping in order to modify behaviours, not only from a safety aspect but also from an efficiency aspect.

Geo-fencing can also raise alerts when an unauthorised person or asset enters a no-go zone.

Information can also be delivered back to field workers in the context of current location. A simple yet effective application is Standard Operating Procedure at a location. By knowing where a person is, information can be delivered automatically to instruct that person on how to do the job at that particular place, what their duties and responsibilities are, and what the hazards are.

Adding something like Google Glass to the equation allows the presentation of information delivered in situ, right in their current field of vision along with audio – all in real time freeing up their hands to carry out the task at hand.

Assistance could be available for in-field workers to connect to a central specialisation centre where experts can provide instruction via a live audio and video connection through Google Glass. Such a function would offer the possibility of experts conveying specialised advice and instruction to many sites – irrespective of physical location. By having proper supervision, hazardous situations can be avoided, not to mention the efficiencies introduced.

In the event of a workplace accident, medical assistance could be provided remotely through the same headsets which would no doubt saves lives.

Beacons also allow technology to automate processes that are slow and cumbersome for humans to perform because of the physical dispersal and sheer volume of in-field personnel. By having devices at entry points, personnel can automatically be clocked in/out via the detection of the beacons being worn. The information can be sent through to HR/Payroll systems and office personnel, not to mention site supervisors, in real time.

Going a step further, each miner can also have attributes regarding compliance items recorded in the system. Now when miners arrive and pass through a checkpoint, the system will know if their certifications and qualifications are sufficient, near expiry, or expired. The system can warn the miner to renew the applicable certifications within the period remaining before expiry, and even make the booking automatically along with notifying HR and management of the booking.

More pro-active steps can be taken by automating physical barriers to prevent entry without the required compliance.

Beacons can also implement SOS functions that, when activated, will broadcast an alert to notify everyone within a radius of the source, along with any medical staff, and administration. The scale of the emergency can be evaluated quickly in real time by the quantity and dispersion of the alarms being activated. This could be an evacuation alert or an assistance alert.

These few examples illustrate just how much beacon technology offers safety in the mining industry. It’s not just the versatility that is their appeal – they are a small and low cost technology.

Once implemented, beacon technology presents a compelling argument not just in the safety aspect but also through the benefits afforded spanning HR, payroll, management, security, and logistics.

Rapidly determining the location of who and what on site can be mean difference between life and death.

Daelibs, Managing director

The  Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is a commercially oriented agency established on 1 July 2012 by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011. ARENA’s two objectives are to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies, and increase the supply of renewable energy in Australia.

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