Do you know when your miners forget to tag-in?

In every underground mine there is a small human error taking place that has huge consequences. The problem with this error is that if it isn’t caught, the person who made the error almost certainly won’t confess to it voluntarily. Mines all over the world are not measuring how often this error takes place, despite them being Potentially Fatal Occurrences (PFOs).

The error in question is when someone from your operation forgets to tag-in before going underground.

Research done by Lifetime Reliability on human error rates sets the benchmark for the simplest possible task as 1 in 10,000. For a mine that has at least 100 people going underground every day, that means someone is probably forgetting to tag-in at your mine at least once every 100 days. It could be more frequent, especially at mines in developing countries where safety compliance is a greater challenge.

Despite how safe your culture is, it’s human nature to make a mistake from time to time. If safety is taken very seriously at your mine, then people may be afraid to report their error out of fear of disciplinary action. If you aren’t aware of this ever happening at your mine, then you may want to seriously consider the consequences if someone is missed underground without a tag on the board during an emergency.

Many mines these days have underground location tracking systems. They use these systems to see who is actually underground in real-time. Despite having these systems in place, every mine still uses a physical tag-board as a redundant safety process to ensure reconciliation of who is underground can still be done during a power outage.

The trick here is to use a smart tag-board that tracks tag placement digitally, and integrate it with your underground real-time location tracking system (RLTS). This way, if someone appears in the RLTS when they haven’t tagged-in yet, an alarm can go off and the incident can be resolved quickly and safely. Also, these incidents can be automatically recorded and measured.

By digitizing this core safety process, you will gain new KPI’s and ensure that when these mistakes happen they are caught immediately and safely, rather than turning into PFOs.

Digitizing a 100 year old safety procedure in the mining industry.

Once upon a time…

Before and after workers went underground, they would do headcounts to if know everyone came out. They would also rely on the social aspect of the workers to know who was still underground that day. Mining was not a safe job.

After the booming Gold rushes in California, BC and Ontario, workers started to band together and form unions. Companies and governments started to band together and form associations. All of this resulted in mass changes across the industry, improving things like safety, pay and working conditions.

One of the most important improvements to worker safety was the brass board. A brass board was a safety tool that represented how many workers and whom was underground.

Every day…

Miners used the brass board. They would take a piece of brass off the board and put it in their pocket. This left a hole on the board, which meant someone was underground. It also had a unique number, which allowed them to identify the person if something bad ever happened to them.

This became a standard practice in the industry. Unions, corporations and industry associations all liked it. Then in the 1960s, the government regulators made it mandatory for all mines. This spread across the world and is now regulation in almost every country with an operating mine.

One day…

Corporate culture and employee morale became a thing for success. Someone realized that the piece of brass that every worker keeps in their pocket symbolizes their chance of dying on the job.

Management decided to modify the brass board into a tag board. Instead of workers removing a brass and putting it in their pocket, they would instead place a card on the board with their name on it.

An un-intended consequence…

Now that workers didn’t have a piece of brass in the pockets, they didn’t feel the weight reminding them to tag out of the mine. Workers began to forget their tags on the board. But this didn’t matter because in the 1970s, mining had one of the biggest bull-runs in history. Gold went from $35/oz to $900/oz.

There was a flat market from 1980 to 1999, where commodities stayed relatively stable and profitable. But then from 1999-2011, the mining industry had another massive run in commodity prices, sending Gold from $250/oz to $1,900/oz.

Everyone in the industry wanted to cash in on this trend. From the workers underground to the executives in the boardroom, everyone wanted to maximize their bonuses. So, no one cared about optimizing efficiency. They only cared about maximizing production.

From 2008-2011, most of the industry went after the high-grade areas of their mines to produce the most amount of ore in the shortest time frame. This left lower-grades from 2011 onward and then prices started to decline… a lot.

Responding to the profitability crunch...

Management started cutting expenses. First, the unnecessary expenses like jets and parties went. Then, the high-priced consultants and contractors. Finally, they started doing large layoffs of their workforce. This had a bad effect on morale and on company culture.

The industry took a long time to get there, but they finally looked at improving operational efficiency. As a part of that, companies are turning to innovation and in particular digitization.

One common goal of underground mining companies is eliminating unexpected production setbacks. In particular, unplanned delays to the blast schedule can cause production gaps that are hard to make up. For many mines, a simple human error is still causing production delays that cost their mines more money than they realize.

When a worker forgets to remove their tag from the tag board at the end of the day, the safety team can't give the all-clear to the blasting team. In a worst-case scenario the miner that forgot their tag is already on their way home, and it costs the mine 1-2 hours of production while they track them down.

An Innovative Solution

By creating a digital "back-up" of the brass board (aka Tag Board) mines can remind their crews to tag-out before leaving the mine. The board can be integrated with mine security to all-out prevent a miner from leaving the operation if they are still tagged-in underground. In addition to preventing blast delays, a Smart Tagboard can also:

  • Ensure that anyone in the mine can see the current state of the brass board from any computer.
  • Reduce confusion during emergencies by quickly reconciling the brass-board status with other location tracking systems.
  • Get an affordable way to digitize a 100 year old safety procedure and create new metrics for your management.