How occupational hazards within the mining industry can be mitigated by further investment in drone technology
By Randall Warnas
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly referred to as drones, have been making significant workplace contributions in recent years. As the capabilities of drone technology continues to expand in both hardware and software; daily use within a vast number of industries continues to grow at a lightning pace. Due to the inherent dangers associated with the mining industry, there is an urgent demand for viable solutions to reduce on-site occupational hazards. Many companies are looking to increased use of drones, which are already playing a significant role in reducing the exposure of mining personnel to high-risk areas, and ensuring their ability to return home safely each day.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States, “Quarrying is one of the most dangerous industries to work in; quarry workers are twice as likely to be killed in an accident at work as construction workers, and 13 times more likely to die at work as those in manufacturing industries.” Public calls for improving mining safety are on the rise, and drone technology may play an instrumental role in redefining how mining operations are conducted.
Mining Global suggests that drones have, “Helped the industry find cheaper ways to map deposit sites and explore for materials via remote control.” However, it is not only the flexibility and efficiency of drones that is so appealing; safety is at the core. Industry-leading drone manufacturer DJI has been pioneering frontiers of making aerial platforms not only more sophisticated, but more accessible for widespread deployment. Recently, DJI has teamed up with Propeller Aero, an Australian-based software company, to provide a seamless solution for mining applications. Here drones will replace the practice of ground surveying stockpiles, which formerly required personnel to navigate piles of loose material in close proximity to heavy machinery.
Rio Tinto is at the forefront of employing drone technology in the mining industry. With a workforce of over 55,000 people operating out of more than 40 countries; the company is using drones for both arduous and dangerous tasks which formerly required personnel to complete. It is almost impossible to imagine the ‘mine of the future’ concept without drones carrying out a variety of tasks, including: monitoring stockpiles, mapping exploration targets, conducting search and rescue missions, surveillance, aerial photography, remote sensing, rail inspection, detecting fractures on rock faces, assessing land disturbances, documenting environmental compliance, enhancing communications, all while reducing mining personnel’s proximity to rock fall and mobile mining equipment.
Drones in the mining industry reduce the need for personnel to access areas of the open pit that are hazardous and congested. By connecting machines, data, and people together, companies are able to perform tasks faster and more reliably. More importantly, safety risks can be significantly reduced.