How Smart Wearables technology are transforming the mining industry

Safer, healthier, and productive environment: the promise of smart wearables for miners

Safer, healthier, and productive environment: the promise of smart wearables for miners
Author : Utsav Patel   Posted :

“I was going to turn thirteen when I joined the coal breaker. I then became a door-boy, a driver of mules, and then a laborer (at twenty) in anthracite coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania. As a rule, we have to rise at 5:00, put the working clothes (always soaked with dust), eat breakfast, and shortly after 6:00 we enter the mines. To reach the place of work, many need to walk miles underground (as by 1860s some anthracite coal mines had reached 1,500 feet into the earth) with the tools, such as the drill, scraper, needle, crowbar, shovel, hammer, sled, and lamp. Those darkened chambers of the mines are full of dangers. To our right and our left, there are logs that keep up the top and support the sides may crush us into shapeless masses anytime. Water dribbles into the ditches from seams. If not water, it is an explosive gas which throws us to eternity and the timbers to chaos. All – dust, smoke, afterdamp, and bad air – combine to bring wrinkles to our faces and asthma to our lungs. It is an endless routine till our death. Our daily life is not a pleasant one,” says Rev. John N. McDowell in an article, ‘The Life of a Coal Miner,’ published in The World’s Work 4 (October 1902): 2659-60.

Even after 117 years, don’t you feel mining workers’ situation is still the same? Although minerals and mineral products are the backbones of most industries, it is still perceived as the dirtiest and the most dangerous job.

  • China’s coal mines still kill an average of 13 miners a day.
  • Since 1970, the use of coal as a fuel source for electricity has more than tripled.
  • In America, every seven seconds, a worker gets injured, every day 12,900, and every year 4.7 million.
  • Worldwide, over 2.78 million hard-working well-trained workers die annually due to treacherous working environments.

These dramatic numbers show us the intensity of how crucial occupational safety is. The saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is as real today as it was when Benjamin Franklin made the quote. Such proactiveness is possible when a source of risk is identified and addressed before accidents happen.

On the one hand, industries – from petroleum, oil & gas, chemical, to telecom – have begun to embrace wearable IoT devices to predict the sources of risks and protect their workers. Will underground mining get on board with this trend?

Mining workers are affected by many hazards – from ventilation problems, mine flooding, gas explosions, ceiling collapsing, mine haulage, sudden inrushes and mine inundation, spontaneous combustion, to unoptimized evacuation routes. And mine operators have been working for decades to ensure no fatal accident results in death, injury, or poor health of miners. Wearing a Fitbit band has become the old news today. Now, the Internet of Things offers a bunch of options in the form of wearable safety technology, such as smart jackets, glasses, and helmets and to keep miners safe.

Worldwide smart wearable market will double by 2022, becoming a $27 billion+ market. – CCS Insight

Smart jacket

To extract minerals and coal, underground mines naturally go to 2,000–3,000 m (6,500–9,800 ft) deep and that too with high-powered machinery to improve production. But on the other side, the emission of dust, gases, heat, and humidity increase. As a result, the ‘human thermal environment’ becomes unpredictable in underground mines. Povl Ole Fanger, an expert in the field of thermal comfort and perception of indoor environments, said in his book, “Thermal Comfort: Analysis and Applications in Environmental Engineering” that an environment can be said to be comfortable only when at least 80% of its occupants are thermally comfortable. He also mentioned further that for a person to be in the thermal comfort zone three parameters need to be satisfied as follows: sweat rate, heat balance, and mean skin temperature within comfort limits.

That’s why having a continuous watch on workers’ body vitals – body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate – could be extremely beneficial for mine operators. A smart jacket fulfills such needs as it measures following body vitals via sensors:
sensor based solutions


Smart glass

Let’s imagine the environment in underground mines. It’s confined, offers limited visibility, and often filled with dust. On top of that, the machinery there with them is huge, not easy to take that out of the mine for maintenance or repair, meaning all operations have to be performed in a dangerous area.

Now imagine if mining workers have a wearable, like smart glass, which employs augmented reality (AR) to allow miners to visualize the machinery parts that need handling and have direction on how to maintain or repair specific components of the machine. Not only that, through sensors on the machine, miners can get valuable insights (real-time information and visualization) on the level of wear and tear of gears, chains, and conveyors or any other part of the machinery.

Won’t it be cost- and time-effective for mining companies if their workers know exactly where to find components that need maintenance or repair?

Smart glass also comes with the virtual reality (VR) technology. It enables mine operators to walk mine workers through a virtual mine and make them aware of how to save themselves from potential hazards.

Thus, the combination of AR/VR technology not only promises elevated productivity but ensures workers safety as well in hazardous environments.

Smart helmet

With connected cameras, sensors to detect dangerous gases or record heat levels, collision avoidance sensors, and augmented reality apps – smart helmet offers tons of possibilities to improve the way miners work. These modern helmets can alert mine managers about rising gas levels, heat exhaustion or even seismic activity, so the teams can take rapid actions to avoid accidents or disasters. A smart helmet has a variety of sensors as shown below:

Gas sensor Senses a wide range of gases, such as CH4, CO, NO, NO2, NH3, SO2, CO2, H2, H2S
Fire sensor Detects IR rays or heat radiation
Light dependent resistor Senses light intensity at the underground unit
Temperature sensor Measures the temperature
Humidity sensor Measures the amount of water vapor in the air
Fall detector Senses linear acceleration and continuously checks the G-value
GSM Module Sends a message to the ground or remote station

Moreover, the smart helmet also monitors fatigue level in real-time. This is crucial because, within mining operations, fatigue is a leading contributor to 60-70% of human error incidents. To know more about how fatigue monitoring improves worker safety, read this.

To know in detail, how IoT helps to achieve increased worker safety and productivity, you may like to attend the webinar.

The bottom line is a lack of communication and safety issues, in mines around the globe, causing miners to experience the life-long injuries and many times even death. The uses of old vague techniques and unpredictable mining conditions have been the most significant barriers to analyzing the actual mining environments. Deployment of smart wearables helps mine operators to monitor the mining process, create a safer and healthier workplace, and increase the effectiveness of personnel and employer. The future is not far when the conventional concept of a “hazardous mine” will evolve into the 21st century concept of “innovative workplace” featuring high efficiency and increased production. The mining industry of today looks confident to make smart wearables the norm. Are you looking forward to safeguard your workers?

To discuss further the advancements smart wearables bring to your mining sites, feel free to reach our technology experts.

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