The impact of recent technological advancement on mining processes and efficiencies is well documented – almost to the point of exhaustion.

We know that among many other things, companies can now build and map digital project twins, manage supply chains with a high level of accuracy and even run billion- dollar projects from several thousand kilometres away.

Benefits in exploration are clear too – core analysis processes which once took days or weeks are now significantly shorter, and thought leadership in this area is driving innovative systems which will shape our understanding of the land in the years to come.

It seems that as long as there’s technology being used in a certain area of industry, the likelihood is someone, somewhere is working on a means of improving it further. Some miners may be slow on the uptake, but capabilities are continually evolving.

While there are some areas of business where efficiencies have been maximised thanks to technological advancement, other areas are still lagging in the eyes of some.

Occupational safety and health isn’t the first thing which comes to mind for many considering project optimisation. There are some disrupters in the area, such as ReRisk, which offers applications to replace the paper trail, simplifying and standardising checking systems and processes. Systems such as these have significant positive impacts for people and workplace efficiencies.

Other disrupters are looking to implement technology into the safety space in other ways.

Optimum Health & Management Services is a consultancy firm which works with organisations to create targeted health goals for staff based on scientific data, with the aim to improve efficiency and achieve full workforce potential.

Optimum HMS Owner Dr Graeme Wright told National Mining Chronicle the workforce was the next frontier for data and analytics in mining.

“I think what’s happened in this world of safety that we live in is we’ve reached a tipping point,” he said.

“You can’t paint any more things yellow, you can’t put more flags up, you can’t set more alarms when the truck is reversing. The people are in high vis and steel caps, they’ve got safety glasses and gloves.

“But if the guy driving the truck has a belly girth of more than 102cm, that puts him, in world health terms, into a substantial risk category. The risk happens to be him.”

Dr Wright said many OHS procedures at present were reactive, largely depending on incidents which had already taken place rather than data collected in real-time.

“When you think of all the data people are collecting on machinery, it’s quite significant,” he said.

“Yet we don’t necessarily collect that information on humans until they’ve had an accident. It’s always retrospective; it’s always reactive.

“What we’re trying to say is ‘can we benchmark your workforce and then build pro les that will enable you as a manager to make decisions specific to your work population on an individual site?’.

“At the moment, it’s not until some major event occurs that we start saying ‘we’d better do something about the size of blokes’ guts, or the fact they’re turning up for work and they’re sleep deprived or they’re dehydrated because they’ve had two or three shifts out in the heat.’”

By building and monitoring staff health profiles, Dr Wright said pre-emptive action was possible.

A paradigm shift

While detailed health data is traditionally difficult to collate without a medical professional at hand, technological advancements of the past decade have made it easier than ever to track steps, monitor heartbeats and measure sleep patterns in a less obtrusive way.

By doing so, organisations can build a health profile which identifies tailored staff needs, optimising the efficiency of a project’s most important asset, its people, and potentially preventing accidents ahead of time.

Just as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to personal fitness – a 5km run will do plenty for some, but not as much for others – the argument is workplace health and safety practices should reflect and adapt to the evolving staff risk profile they apply to.

“They say everyone needs a certain amount of exercise, certain amounts of food and certain amounts of water, but these are measurements made in generic terms,” Dr Wright said.

“If you’re running a workforce that might have a group at Belmont in Perth and a group at Kununurra, why would you be delivering the same thing to those people when they’re clearly in diffierent environments? You may also find their workforce health is different.

“You take the risk out of the workforce by ensuring everyone is fit, healthy and well and can actually perform. For some people this means they have to increase their level of physical activity when they’re not working. Some people may have to eat better. For some it’s sleep.

“There are a lot of things we can do now to improve performance that are also related to the individual.”

But to what extent is an employer’s involvement in an employee’s personal life justified? Once a pursuit entirely separate of the workplace, personal fitness and health are increasingly entering the conversation when it comes to health and safety.

Dr Wright said privacy was an important and genuine concern when it came to data collection, but the core message was one around safety, health and wellbeing into the future.

“What we’re talking about here is overt risk,” he said.

“We want to work with workers, unions, employers, employees – the whole gamut – to say what we’re interested in is improving and managing the health risks of your workforce.

“We’re creating an elite workforce using science, getting to the point where we can improve the performance of workers, and also, because workers are ageing and largely male, we get them into a better position for retirement.”

Dr Wright said those who adapted early would be on the right side of history and technology in years to come.

“Imagine the first conversation that must have occurred somewhere before our workforce got into fluoros and high-vis gear,” he said.

“It would’ve been ‘hang on, you can’t tell us what to wear’. The response would have been ‘we’re not trying to tell you what to wear, we’re trying to say if you wear this particular apparel your safety will improve and injuries will decrease’.

“The conversation on this matter is very similar – this is all about improving safety.”

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