WHILE the number of mine worker fatalities has been trending downward for the past 25 years the proportion of accidents involving mine machinery and mobile equipment continues to cause concern. Safety authorities have long voiced uneasiness about the interaction of workers and machinery and with the number of accidents classified as struck-by or caught-in.

These include workers entangled in rotating machinery, struck by moving machine components or run over by mobile equipment. Such accidents can have severe repercussions in terms of their personal impact, number of industry hours lost and amount of downtime caused.

One major response has been to ensure that only properly trained and safety-aware people are authorized to operate mobile and fixed machinery.

Mine owners have introduced various access control systems to try to ensure that only qualified people operate or work around particular types of machinery. Others are electronically locked out of controlling such a system, or denied entry within a set perimeter around such plant.

The problems with this can be:

  • It is only specific to particular items in a site or a particular area, rather than across a site;
  • It doesn’t always provide real-time, rapidly accessible information about how machinery is being operated, which can provide warnings before accidents happen; and
  • Being reactive, it does not instil a culture of safety. This is achieved by not only excluding unqualified people from operating machinery but also by improving the performance of those qualified to operate it.

“Achieving a safety culture is a major objective in mining, especially when developing a culture of commitment to safety. You can give all the lectures and provide all protective measures you like, but it will fall down unless equipment operators are committed to a shared culture of responsibility that ensures correct use of high-risk, high-value plant equipment,” says access control authority Joel Phelps, who is responsible for the introduction in North America of an innovative access control system - AccessPoint from Whiting Passport.

The system is purpose-built to boost occupational health and safety and cut business risk associated with billions of dollars’ worth of industrial equipment.

Whiting Corporation’s AccessPoint uses smart card technology to control access to a variety of mobile and fixed plant equipment. While smart card technology is increasingly used, AccessPoint is radically different from typical systems designed to prohibit use by merely restricting perimeter access.

“Not only do traditional systems require expensive communications infrastructure but also once people have passed security, there is typically nothing to stop them operating any individual machine. They are comparatively limited when compared with the new generation technology represented by AccessPoint,” says Joel Phelps. The system is engineered for individual items of fixed and mobile plant and for general use across an organization.

“For individual items, AccessPoint is fitted to the device you want to manage. It will only operate for individuals that have been authorized, and only for the period that the authority is valid. Machines will not start for anyone else. Controlling devices individually also enables us to tackle the difficult part of the HSE equation – the people part, which is typically ignored because changing people’s behaviour is really hard but maintaining it is harder still.”

“AccessPoint logs authorized use and achieves behavioural change by providing the means by which people can be held accountable. This change tends to stay with the operator when they use other equipment. Also, because it doesn’t need to rely on a network, it can be installed quickly and inexpensively on a wider range of equipment. You can control access to mobile and battery powered equipment that isn’t bolted down and can easily wander in and out of Wi-Fi or 3G range,” says Joel Phelps.

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