Monitoring Operator Fatigue in Underground Mines: The Limitations of Camera-Based Solutions
Monitoring the alertness levels of drivers and heavy machine operators in any industrial application is vital. Fatigued operators are a safety hazard to themselves and those around them. They reduce productivity and can cause damage and unnecessary wear and tear to vehicles and other equipment.

Open-pit mines and transportation companies around the world have embraced fatigue-monitoring solutions and are seeing the benefits of using technology to fight the challenge of fatigue. There are many different types of solutions that have been used to help prevent fatigue-related incidents in mines – ranging from vibrating seats to random alarms to systems that detect eye closure using cameras.

While camera-based systems were the first to rise to broad market acceptance, these systems are falling out of favour for monitoring fatigue and alertness levels for many reasons, including:

  • They are not based on proven science – detecting eye-closure using a camera only mimics the way a colleague would detect fatigue; it doesn’t help to eliminate fatigue risk in the workplace.
  • They aren’t proactive – when visible signs of fatigue set-in (eye-closed microsleep), it is already too late to safely prevent an incident; once a microsleep has occurred, it is already a ‘near miss’.
  • They’re invasive – nobody likes being watched all day, every day while they do their work. Camera systems are often considered an invasion of privacy and are unpopular with unions.

Underground miners are following in their surface colleagues’ footsteps, and the managers of underground operations are rapidly recognizing the importance of an alert workforce. The technology challenges are significantly more complicated for underground operations because what works on surface does not necessarily work underground.

For underground mines, camera-based fatigue monitoring solutions simply don’t work. The technology is not suitable for use in harsh underground environments for many reasons, such as:

  • High levels of dust and moisture – and low levels of light – are not ideal for the use of cameras, making the solutions less effective than other alternatives.
  • The risk of damage to the expensive camera equipment is high, as underground operators often work in an unprotected cab or one with limited protection and space for the camera.
  • High-bandwidth communications infrastructure is not always available – especially at the face – which hinders the technology’s effectiveness underground

Life by SmartCap is an advanced fatigue monitoring solution that makes use of electroencephalography (EEG), electrophysiological monitoring of electrical activity in the brain, and therefore does not need to see the operator’s eyes to determine their state of wakefulness. The system design provides proactive feedback to operators and supervisors alike to actually empower operators to manage their own workplace alertness. Life by SmartCap gathers the broadest spectrum of fatigue data, from company-wide trends to individual fatigue profiling. Cloud-based analytics provide insight and decision-making support to any risk management program, helping mining companies to actually eliminate fatigue-related incidents from their mines – both on surface and underground.

Contact us now to find out more about how Life by SmartCap can help your drivers and machine operators manage their fatigue levels and contribute to better mine safety.