Wearables aiding mine truck drivers in battling on-the-job fatigue

Wearable devices have been found to help workers avoid fatigue-related incidents while driving mine transporters, according to the results of a new study.

The result comes from a multi-year project conducted by researcher Emily Tetzlaff in collaboration with Torex Gold at the gold miner’s operations in Mexico.

“We know this is an issue that multiple industries face, but it’s a massive problem for the mining industry because we have a lot of passive fatigue that can happen with cellular operators,” she explained.

Tetzlaff is a PhD student at the University of Ottawa and a former researcher at the Center for Research in Occupational Safety and Health (CROSH) in Sudbury.

“And that passive fatigue, it’s made worse by the shift cycle that the site might be working, it’s made worse by the sedentary behavior, driving on these roads that they’re very familiar with, and then we have all the environmental features — so if you work at night, even with that workforce, you have dim lighting, a humid environment, and high heat.”

Tetzlaff presented their findings during the CIM (Maintenance, Engineering and Reliablility/Mine Operators) MEMO 2022 conference, being held September 18-21 at Science North in Sudbury.

The four-day conference brought together mining industry stakeholders to learn about new products and research, as well as industry best practices.

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In her study, Tetzlaff was able to measure a worker’s brain activity through the use of a SmartCap LifeBand — a band worn across a worker’s forehead that detects specific brainwave frequencies related to different levels of alertness.

“You have a predictive ability where it actually gives you warnings before you microsleep,” Tetzlaff explained.

“So you get real-time, live data right to the operator in the cab of the truck. You have direct communication with someone on the job who can also support you and make those modifications and behavioral adjustments that put you back in a place of vigilance be able.”

17 workers – 15 men and two women – agreed to participate in the voluntary study. All were drivers of the Komatsu HD785-7, a 100-ton capacity road transporter.

The data showed that over a 20-day cycle — 10 day shifts followed by 10 night shifts — operator fatigue peaked on day 10, marking the transition from day shift to night shift, an expected result, Tetzlaff said.

“Overall, our actual fatigue alerts that occurred during this time were actually the same during the day and night,” she said.

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The rate of fatigue alerts varied between participants, she found. Some had no fatigue alerts at all, indicating a strong ability to manage their own fatigue, while others had multiple.

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Three of the operators accounted for 79 percent of the alerts in any given period, and they all worked as part of the same crew, an “interesting” note, Tetzlaff said.

The highest rates of fatigue occurred on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. and from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

“That’s all of this information that we can use to tailor the program to these individuals and coach them and dig a little deeper into what personal factors might be causing them to have these higher levels of fatigue, or why these days.” of the week will be rather worrying,” said Tetzlaff.

The data also showed that participants were more prone to fatigue when reaching certain locations along a truck’s route, such as a road. an idle area for dumping, or a meeting place where drivers have been more sedentary for extended periods of time.

In some cases, these areas may just need a simple fix like better lighting to help drivers avoid fatigue, she added.

On average, operators wore the device for six to seven hours during a 10-hour shift, Tetzlaff reported. Most said they didn’t find the device an added distraction, but a valuable tool in helping them stay alert at work.

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“We asked them, ‘Are you ready to take this further after the pilot?'” she noted. “All operators have agreed to this, so a really, really good buy-in.”

Since the study was completed, Torex has expanded the project: A further 55 truck drivers began wearing the LifeBand last spring.

Later this month, the project will expand again, adding another 103 workers to the list of participants, including bulldozer, drill, grader and haulage operators.

By the end of 2023 and into 2024, Torex will move to a full-surface expansion, and eventually, Tetzlaff said, the company wants to make it a mandatory part of a worker’s personal protective equipment.

However, she stressed that no punitive action will be taken against a worker who refuses to wear the LifeBand.

For skeptical workers who are still hesitating, Torex is focused on creating more education and awareness of the technology and how it works.

That falls to supervisors to say, “What can we do today to make you wear it more often?” Tetzlaff said.

“So right now it’s really a coaching approach to behavior change and not trying to be as forceful.”

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