Two-pronged approach to frontline innovation 

A recent Innovation State of Play report surveyed companies across the global mining industry and found leading companies were twice as likely to believe safety innovation would deliver high value. 

The report further found that even within fast-follower companies, frontline leaders were eight times more likely to believe safety innovation would deliver value and were investing 10 per cent of their energy to pursue it.

Safety technology company rerisk said the report confirmed miners were increasingly discovering the extraordinary value buried on their frontlines and opening a new frontier of safety innovation to capture it.

Until recently, safety innovation focused on the technologies used by corporate oversight personnel, including the databases and analytical platforms required to store and report safety data.

But the combined introduction of cloud computing, smartphones and remote connectivity provides miners with an opportunity to better support their frontline workers in the safety process. rerisk Chief Executive Officer Jaqueline Outram said this new frontier would deliver the richest rewards.

“It’s simple maths – if you’re going to implement a system that reduces risks and costs, do you want that system to serve your handful of oversight people or your thousands of frontline workers?” she said.

Automation and robotics should drive a step change in frontline safety by removing people from harm’s way. But when, and the extent to which, a company forecasts this step change will occur impacts both the urgency and longevity of frontline safety technologies.

“We’re not trying to stop the bots,” Ms Outram said.

“But even the most optimistic scientists think it’ll be 10 years before people are removed from operational norms and 20 years before they’re removed from operational breakdowns and exceptions. No business can wait that long, so in the meantime we need to give the frontline the technologies they need to reduce risks and maximise efficiencies.”

As with any new frontier, the pioneers must navigate some new terrains, including choosing the right technology for their frontline workers. Ms Outram claimed the journey was smoother for companies that followed two key principles.

Solve the problem

Most frontline safety technologies make it easier for oversight personnel to create and issue digital templates for front line workers to complete. But Ms Outram said that was not the problem. The problem was the difficulties workers encountered when completing the templates.

“Frontline workers navigate infinite combinations of tasks, risks and controls every day,” she said.

“You can’t predict every combination in advance, so you need to focus on enabling them in real-time. The rerisk back-end uses enterprise hierarchies and sophisticated logic to automatically inform and guide the frontline just when they need it.”

Most frontline safety technologies are also compliance centric, perhaps because digital checklists are relatively easy to develop. Ms Outram said while compliance inspections would remain necessary, companies should first seek to enable frontline workers.

“If we’ve concluded our compliance inspectors need memory prompts, doesn’t it make sense our frontline workers could use them too?” she said.

“Why not make the memory prompts inherent in their existing templates instead of making them complete another standalone template?”

The rerisk technology includes searchable and expandable hazard maps to prompt frontline workers when completing their pre-work risk assessments and permits.

Standardise

Many companies believe safety templates include valuable intellectual property, but Ms Outram said bespoke templates and technologies increased risks and costs.

“At the end of the day, all safety templates are developed from the same standards, so it’s unlikely the value of intellectual property outweighs the full costs of a bespoke system,” she said.

“The biggest cost arises from the need to induct suppliers with how to use the bespoke system or worse, inhibiting supplier competition.”

Although rerisk offers companies an option to share templates and technologies, Ms Outram said this thinking didn’t extend to integration efforts or cloud infrastructure.

“We can deliver turnkey solutions, but we also encourage clients to leverage their in-house capabilities,” she said.

Regardless of the potential terrain, it’s incumbent on the mining industry to solve the challenges frontline workers are encountering when preparing to work safely.

“In the least, our frontline workers will be safer and our shareholders will be simultaneously rewarded” Ms Outram said.

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