Can mobile technology really mean the difference between life and death?
The Oil n’ Gasand Mining industry is making a significant shift away from traditional radio communications in favour of the latest modern communication devices. A report in The Economist analysed “the impact that mobile technologies has had on the mining industry”.
The global report found that 74% of mining executives believed that the introduction of technology had saved lives – that’s a significant shift in perception across the industry. Despite the acceptance that technology can improve safety and working conditions, report editor Riva Richmond says the mining industry has been slow to adapt to change and still has work to do.
A total of 84% of the mining executives surveyed believe that health and safety had improved as a direct result of adopting mobile technologies.
In contrast, just 60% of utility executives and 54% of oil and gas executives shared the same views. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit report, the mining industry believes that mobile technology represents the new barrier between life and death, literally.
“Mining regulators and managers have been slow to deploy mobile technologies, which is not surprising given the hazardous conditions they work in,” she said. “But it is because it is so hazardous that they have so much to gain. “Where they have been introduced, we have seen a safer and more productive workforce – and this is starting to win people over.”
The Economist found that radios were more likely to be found on a mine site than a smartphone or tablet. So how exactly does modern technology improve safety and reduce the risk of fatalities? The report states: “The increasing use of devices such as handhelds, laptops and tablets is promoting the automation of work processes, speeding maintenance, aiding inspections and providing workers with step-by-step procedures that are designed to maximise production and prevent accidents.
70% believe mobile devices have prevented and reduced worker incidents and accidents
“Mine operators are winning these gains, even though they must operate underground or at remote surface mines, where wireless connections are often limited if available at all. “
Workers or supervisors following procedures loaded onto mobile devices are less dependent on instructions received via traditional communication networks, such as tracking and telemetry systems, which – whether wired or wireless – are vulnerable to rock falls, explosions or other underground emergencies.
“The technology can connect with existing communications and tracking (CT) systems but is not dependent on them. “For machine operators, having this information at their fingertips makes it easier for them to understand and comply with safety policies and established work and maintenance procedures, helps them to prevent failures, reduces repair time and creates a safer working environment for all.
“Introduction of mobile devices has also been hindered by cautious regulators, especially in the US, who have been reluctant to approve any new technology out of concern about the potential for electronic devices to cause underground explosions. “But the benefits are now outweighing the concerns.
“A global survey of 50 mining executives by the Economist Intelligence Unit in August 2013 found that 70% believe mobile devices have prevented and reduced worker incidents and accidents, while 76% say their companies have responded more quickly to actual or potential accidents.
“74% of the executives say workers’ lives have been saved.”
“Almost three-quarters (74%) of the executives say workers’ lives have been saved.” The technology solution is so simple that it’s improving safety by basically modernising communication methods. Safety procedures, live updates of operational matters and precise instructions on how to avoid or react to an incident are making a significant difference in mines where this technology is employed. It’s interesting that from a drive for safety and efficiency the mining industry has been handed an unexpected safety advantage.
In terms of smartphones, mining companies will be concerned that their use could provide a potential distraction, if employees browse the web or social media during a shift. There’s an element of trust and responsibility on both sides. This latest report highlights the link between the mining industry and technology. It will prove impossible to ignore by managers under increasing pressure to improve safety and optimise operational efficiency.