A Force Multiplier

A Force Multiplier

It goes without saying that the Mine Safety landscape is one filled with many challenges and history is full of examples with the severity and consequences of safety in mining like no other industry. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 is a testament to how complicated and high consequence safety is in mining. I’ve had the privilege of working with dozens of mine operations across the United States over the last decade with multiple companies and there is one constant theme, today’s mines run lean on people. Enter technology.

I must admit something that is hard to say, but I am told it is the first step, I am a Millennial. There, I said it and I feel better even though now you assume I live in my parent’s basement. I only share this to illustrate how much I embrace technology because of my generation. That said, I think we need to be very careful in the mining industry to focus our application of technology regarding safety in the correct places. Let’s make sure we don’t try to replace the good stuff, the face-to-face interactions and commitments to safety. 

In today’s world, we all have had to embrace technology to stay connected with those important in our lives and I think we have also felt that gap that still exists. Safety culture is personal, it’s human.  So how do we use technology to influence this in a positive way in such a complicated and lean industry?

Digital forms and automated metrics delivering data to a data cube and creating colorful reports and dashboards with Power BI to make data-based decisions must be the answer, right?  It feels like seeing safety statistics in a high-tech and real time way must be the way to leverage technology is safety, doesn’t it? To me, it’s not all of it and it is certainly not the most important part. In fact, I have accomplished those things and have not seen the impact expected, in fact, I noted that the safety culture at those high-tech sites lagged or regressed in comparison to those that lacked the technology. 

Why? It seemed impossible that bringing a site into the digital future would not improve the safety, it improved everything else. It wasn’t the wrong technology; the problem was that I was trying to sharpen the spear from the wrong end. There is incredible power in applying technology in a way that puts the right people in the right place at the right time with the right information.  Instead of informing leadership, inform the mechanic. Utilize automated workflows to allow supervision to know what tasks are ongoing and where in the field their time is best spent to mitigate risk. Deploy Augmented Reality to quickly include and receive guidance from the subject matter expert when things don’t go to plan. Spend the money on improving the tip of the spear when it comes to safety and not on the report that tells you how the spear is doing. Let’s make the report phase two.

In my career I have seen the full range of incident severity from the mundane to the ultimate. Every single one of them was preventable if just one element was different. I believe that technology can significantly help us change that one element needed to reduce and eliminate incidents. With technology, we can multiply our workforce and ensure that the human touch is happening in the right places and at the right time.  

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