NIOSH Seeks Data on Automation Used in Mining

In order to prepare for the expanded use of automation technologies, NIOSH seeks to both proactively address worker health and safety challenges that may be associated with automation and to leverage new technologies to improve miners' health and safety.

NIOSH on March 18 published a request for information about automation used in mining. The request indicated NIOSH recently established a research program to address the rapidly expanding area of automation and associated technologies in mining, and it is seeking information as it decides how to prioritize research to be done by its Mining Program.

NIOSH is seeking input on priority gaps in knowledge regarding the safety and health implications of humans working with automated equipment and associated technologies in mining, with an emphasis on worker safety and health research in which NIOSH has the comparative advantage and is unlikely to be undertaken by other federal agencies, academia, or the private sector, the request document says.

The comment deadline is May 17, 2019. They are to be identified by CDC-2019-0016 and NIOSH-325 and may be submitted via www.regulations.gov olr be mail to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH Docket Office, 1090 Tusculum Ave., MS C-34, Cincinnati, OH 45226-1998.

In the document, NIOSH reports that "the mining industry has been undergoing significant changes as companies look to adopt automation technologies to decrease costs and increase efficiency and, according to some companies, improve safety. These new technologies include automated mobile equipment, robotics, teleoperation, wireless communications and sensing systems, wearable sensors and computers, virtual and augmented reality, and data analytics," it says. "Surface iron ore mines in Western Australia are moving rapidly to adopt automation technologies, and they appear to be the closest in achieving completely autonomous mining. In U.S. mines, the adoption of automation technology is gaining momentum, with some of the first automation having been applied to processing facilities, drilling equipment, underground coal mine longwalls, and now pilot projects with automated haulage trucks and loaders."

In order to prepare for the expanded use of automation technologies, NIOSH seeks to both proactively address worker health and safety challenges that may be associated with automation and to leverage new technologies to improve miners' health and safety. The agency seeks public input on the following questions:

  • To what extent will automation and associated technologies be implemented in mining and in what timeframe?
  • What are the related health and safety concerns with automation and associated technologies in mining?
  • What gaps exist in occupational health and safety research related to automation and associated technologies?
  • What are the major safety concerns associated with humans working near or interacting with automated mining equipment? Have other organizations addressed the safety concerns associated with humans working near or interacting with automated mining equipment? If yes, please provide a description.
  • What research has been conducted, or approaches taken, to address the potential for human cognitive processing confusion, misunderstanding, and task or information overload associated with monitoring or controlling automated mining equipment or other monitoring systems (e.g., fleet management, environmental monitoring, safety systems, health care systems)?
  • What is the state of the art for display methodologies and technologies to provide mine personnel and equipment operators with information on operational status, location, and sensory and environmental feedback from automated mining equipment or systems?
  • What sensor technology improvements are needed to ensure the safety of humans working on or near automated equipment?
  • How are existing methods of big data analytics applied to automated mining equipment or systems? Are there health and safety benefits to these applications? If yes, please describe.
  • Are there any needed improvements to guidelines or industry standards for automated mining system safe design and operation practices? If yes, please describe.
  • Are there any needed improvements to training materials, training protocols, and operating procedures for system safety design principles related to automated mining systems? If yes, please describe.
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