Miners speak with one voice on equipment safety
Among leading mining companies, health and safety management is seen as an integral part of their operations. They’ve worked at the corporate level and at the mine site level to improve safety for operators, technicians and other personnel, with a goal of zero harm.
Recently they joined forces and united their voices to make health and safety a primary focus not only among miners, but among those who design and build the equipment they use to extract the critical resources needed to meet global demand.
“Mining companies face a common problem ensuring that earthmoving equipment is designed to be operated and maintained under all site conditions without causing harm to people,” says Jim Joy, director of the Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre (MISHC) and professor of risk management at the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia.
Eight major mining companies — Anglo American, Barrick, BHP Billiton, FCX, Newmont, Rio Tinto, Vale and Xstrata — now participate in and provide resources for a unique partnership called the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMESRT). Officially formed in early 2006, EMESRT encourages manufacturers to improve Human Factors design of equipment in order to minimize health and safety risks. The group established a vision, purpose and scope, and developed design philosophies on certain risk areas. In late 2006 and again in late 2007, the combined representatives traveled throughout North America to actively engage with major surface mining Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) on influencing equipment design.
Promoting a health and safety focus
For decades, equipment users — specifically dealers and mine sites — have focused on human factors engineering and actively carried out modifications designed to mitigate health and safety risks. Rather than working to influence the base design process by explaining the fundamental problems they encountered, the industry instead focused on telling manufacturers the solutions to these problems.
What prompted the rapid implementation and progress of the EMESRT group? Tony Egan, a representative of Xstrata’s coal business, who was one of the pioneers behind EMESRT, attributes it to several factors.
“For one thing, the mining industry is changing with an ever-increasing focus on health and safety improvement,” he says. “Major global mining companies now have reasonably consistent health and safety expectations, but with local dealers providing current solutions there is difficulty in gaining a consistent application of these requirements globally. The solution involves a shift toward getting the design right at the factory and not leaving it to the local dealers.”
OEMs are equipped and resourced to provide the best solution, Egan explains. “With that common view among the earthmoving equipment users, we’re actually in an environment that can get us around the table. The current eight member companies committed to EMESRT represent the large share of the industry and therefore have a greater collective influence.”
While discussing different ways to improve safety more than three years ago, several global mining companies came up with the possibility of sharing their concerns and working to influence the design parameters of OEMs. Some OEMs had even encouraged such a movement so they could sort through the mixed “solution” messages coming from their individual customers.
The idea gained momentum and in March 2006, representatives of three major mining companies and MISHC met to discuss an alternative approach. Three more companies joined the group in 2006, and in October of that year the group agreed to terms of reference and adopted its official name.
MISHC was invited to coordinate the engagement process, with Joy serving as facilitator. Joy brings considerable Human Factors expertise to EMESRT. He was the leader of a research project funded by the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) titled “Improvement of Human Factors Engineering in Large Surface Mining Equipment Design.”
Human Factors Engineering is a science that focuses on how people interact with tasks, machines and the environment, recognizing that humans have limitations and capabilities.
ACARP provided additional funding for MISHC to assist EMESRT with the critical development phase of the OEM engagement process, which concluded in 2006. The 2007-2008 work plan was fully funded by member companies. In 2008, ACARP also agreed to provide funding for the dissemination of information about leading practice designs and issues — via a Web portal called MIRMgate (Minerals Industry Risk Management Gateway). (www.mirmgate.com.au)
The group set some aggressive goals:
- Develop and make available Design Philosophy (DP) information in selected topic areas.
- Understand how DPs align with or exceed expectations set out in standards and regulations, including the International Standards Organization (ISO).
- Develop and make available a Human Factors design process “journey” tool designed for OEM self assessment.
- Encourage OEMs to engage with member companies to participate in OEM operability and maintainability design reviews using a structured process.
- Use MIRMgate as a repository for DPs, lessons learned and leading practices.
Identifying the gap
Despite some excellent work in several areas, many of the Human Factors design issues for the mining equipment of 30 years ago remains today, says Alan Miskin, an EMESRT team member representing BHP Billiton. “Today’s large mining equipment is relatively unchanged in the past 30 years,” he says. “The size of equipment has increased with advances in tire technology, engines, control systems and drive systems. But how else has the mining equipment changed to meet customer safety needs? If the end-users did not need these changes, they would not be modifying equipment themselves or forcing their dealers to do it.”
Despite the fact that earthmoving equipment is generally designed to recognized international standards, Human Factors design aspects sometimes fail to meet customer requirements with both company and regulatory standards, as well as controlling risks to As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP).
“This has created a gap or ‘design vacuum’ between OEM designs and customer needs, which allows inadequate opportunity for identifying and managing residual risks that may exist,” says Joy. “While mining companies have not been happy with this design gap, EMESRT members agreed that what they had been doing to influence manufacturers wasn’t successful. Working independently and attempting to influence OEMs with design solutions hadn’t produced the desired results. Mining companies would oftentimes send conflicting messages to OEMs on how to resolve an issue.”
“We needed to get away from telling manufacturers what specific solutions we wanted added on to existing designs,” Miskin says.
“We changed direction to say: ‘Let us tell you the problem. You’re the ones with the engineering know-how to fix it.’ EMESRT is about trying to align the understanding of risk with the expectations of how we can mitigate them.”
Egan agrees. “A learned man once said, ‘A problem will never truly be solved at the level of thinking at which it was created.’ This is true of this issue,” he says. “We realized that as long as we splintered our voice — with each telling OEMs how to change existing products — rapid change in the base designs was difficult due to the commercial and resource constraints of manufacturers.”
Outlining the priorities
EMESRT members agreed that their ability to align company requirements and expectations for Human Factors design would be critical for presenting a common voice to OEMs. They combined their individual expectations into the development of Design Philosophies that outline:
- General design outcomes
- Risks to be mitigated
- Leading practice examples of industry attempts to mitigate risks
Each Design Philosophy sheet is supported by images that depict both the risks to be mitigated and the leading practice example solutions developed by mining companies and other third parties. The aim of a Design Philosophy is to provide information to help OEMs design equipment with risks mitigated using the ALARP principle.
The group identified 15 topics as priority areas for 2007 and 2008: Access and egress; working at heights; noise; vibration; fire; dust; isolation; visibility/collision detection; machine stability/slope indication; guarding; displays; controls, including labeling; tires and rims; manual materials handling; work postures; and confined space.
“These philosophies provide an image of many Human Factors problems,” says Joy. “They represent a significant step forward based on the common voice of the EMESRT members.”
Information is disseminated using the MIRMgate Web portal, as well as an EMESRT Alert Service that notifies MIRMgate users when new information related to any of the 15 design philosophies is released.
“We’re making it as easy as possible for OEMs to be aware and have access to resources,” Joy says.
Responding to EMESRT
As EMESRT continues to work on the rest of the design priorities, identify and research new issues and further its relationships with OEMs, the group has delivered enough information to give manufacturers some areas on which to focus. EMESRT would like to see OEMs:
- Incorporate the Design Philosophies into their equipment design process in the early stages
- Communicate and share knowledge
- In the conceptual phase, conduct design reviews using OMAT (Operability and Maintainability Assessment Technique) developed by EMESRT, or a similar task-based risk identification technique
- Accelerate development of safety improvements
- Partner in safety initiatives beyond equipment design
Incorporating the design philosophies
The Design Philosophies are meant to be used to influence earthmoving equipment in the design phase — the most strategic time to develop ways to mitigate risks. For Caterpillar, the key will be embedding those philosophies into the company’s own design guide.
“You’ve got to build this in from day one,” says Cameron Ferguson, product safety and engineering solutions manager in the Technology and Solutions Division. “Our designs already are equal to or above published international standards and some regulations. But we are and will continue to strive to do more than that.”
Caterpillar’s Dan Hellige, safety and sustainable development manager in the Global Mining Division, agrees. “We need to drive EMESRT’s input in a rigorous manner at the very beginning of the design process. We don’t want to look at post-production fixes; we want to consider their input in the early part of the New Product Introduction (NPI) cycle, in the strategy phase. Caterpillar and EMESRT are not that far apart. Our safety design guide brings years of experience and it’s not much different than EMESRT’s Design Philosophies. We need to look at how our priorities align.”
Bridging the knowledge gap
A lot of the progress EMESRT hopes to make is less about specific design improvements and more about communication and changing the way people look at things. “You must understand why you do things,” says Egan. “The goal is to get manufacturers to think about designing safety into all aspects of what they do. We must bridge the knowledge gap between users’ performance needs and manufacturers’ design engineers.”
“Get a design engineer and a user in the same room,” says Miskin of BHP Billiton. “Find a mechanism that transfers the knowledge among the engineer, the standards and regulations guy, and the user.”
“There might be good and reasonable reasons for things. And that’s fine,” Miskin continues. “In that case, think sideways. If standing on top of a machine to wash windows is dangerous, the only solution isn’t to make a safer place to stand to do the job. Can the source of the dirty window be eliminated? Can the window swing over? Can you put in a better wiper/washer system so the window doesn’t need to be manually washed at all?”
Assessing the safety risks
As manufacturers requested during the 2006 meetings, EMESRT has developed a risk assessment tool — called the Operability and Maintainability Analysis Technique (OMAT) — to help OEMs learn all the potential risks before beginning the design of a piece of equipment.
OMAT is a qualitative risk assessment technique, which systematically assesses the risks to be mitigated. It is a four-step process that initiates the creation of a flow chart for all tasks and concludes with a comprehensive risk registry for a particular piece of equipment.
“Having OMAT or something similar stops the emotive arguments,” explains Egan. “Do we all understand all aspects of the issue? Then we can all agree on the outcome. It’s all about wider knowledge sharing between users and the designers.”
Egan illustrates the concept this way: Traditionally, prescriptive or rule-based industry legislation gave miners the rules to run their operations; however, this clearly did not prevent incidents from occurring. Contemporary risk-based legislation requires the development of risk management systems that require the systematic identification of all risks on a mine site, then a series of controls are established specifically for that mine. The higher the risk, the more robust the control required.
“Another way to look at it is speed limits on the road,” Egan continues. “These rule-based limits apply in fine weather, but should conditions change — like when it rains and you continue at the maximum limit — then an unacceptable level of risk may occur in the conditions. You need to assess this and adjust your driving to suit the varying conditions. In many cases local controls are too weak for the level of risk and ultimately require hard barriers through changing the original design.”
Accelerating the improvements
EMESRT is clear about its main purpose — to accelerate development and adoption of leading practice designs for earth moving equipment. Caterpillar leaders don’t disagree with the need for speed. But they point out several issues that come up when the development process is accelerated.
“Why don’t we respond as quickly as our customers would like on some issues?” asks Kent Lynch, marketing professional in Caterpillar’s Track-Type Tractor division. “Because our engineers need to ensure that reliability and durability are deliverable in their designs. It’s cultural and emotional for our designers. They want to ensure that the design meets all potential customer requirements and exhibits reliability prior to release.” EMESRT leaders say they think mining companies would agree to take on innovative solutions that are in the advanced testing stage. “What if we had an expanded field follow testing program?” asks Craig Mamales of Rio Tinto. “If the OEM tells us that we’re taking it on a caveat basis, I think we would do that.”
Lynch agrees and notes that mines must accept a potential loss of availability that comes with adopting some of these enhancements. “Let’s work together to find an appropriate level of content and reliability to meet miners’ needs,” he says.
Making safety a differentiator
The obvious benefit of building equipment that mitigates the risks (to ALARP) described in EMESRT’s Design Philosophies is that operators and maintainers will be safer. But having safety improvements also can be a marketing differentiator for OEMs.
“It used to be if a mining machine was strong, reliable and built with quality, it could differentiate itself in the marketplace,” says Egan. “Now the health, safety and environmental attributes of the machines are increasingly important to users. An OEM can give value to these operability and maintainability aspects and further differentiate the machine in the marketplace.”
Egan concedes that it can be a challenge selling the value of above “standard” safety features to those who look at the bottom line without understanding the real risks. “Our aim is to use the Design Philosophies to engage and inform users and engineers alike.”
Craig Mamales of Rio Tinto offers this example: “A mine site ordered a Cat® D11T, which came with a Work Area Vision System camera system for improved visibility. The property opted not to take the camera because the purchasing department didn’t think it was necessary. A risk assessment helped them understand the value of the camera — the operator couldn’t see the ripper — and the site then recognized the value of the system. The additional explanation helped get everyone — from the purchasing group to the operator — on board.”
Joy says the acceptance of safety features will be generational. “It’s like the auto industry,” he explains. “Ten years ago, you’d only find airbags on a Mercedes Benz. Today you can’t buy a new car without them. It took a change in the community. Now it’s cheaper for automakers to put airbags in every car than it is to offer them as an option.”
Craig Ross of Barrick Gold is confident that change will happen. “There has been a great deal of interest,” he says. “Next year will tell the tale. Our people who are buying equipment are now starting to ask the right questions. I haven’t seen any resistance.”
Looking to the future
The future of EMESRT appears strong. “Interest is high, feedback is positive, and we’re receiving in-kind support from many areas of the industry such as the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM),” says Egan. “2008 is about getting the word out and educating mine sites.”
Because all OEMs base their “standard” machine designs on published standards from around the world, EMESRT has begun the process of analyzing how the Design Philosophies align with or exceed expectations in standards and regulations, including the International Standards Organization (ISO), which represents the national standards institutes of 157 countries.
EMESRT has initiated an engagement process aimed at establishing an effective relationship between EMESRT and OEMs. The group also has agreed to work toward educating user mines about the Design Philosophy aims and to encourage use of the Design Philosophies in the purchasing process for new equipment.
EMESRT Engagement Process
EMESRT has initiated an engagement process aimed at establishing an effective relationship between EMESRT and OEMs. The group also has agreed to work toward educating user mines about the design philosophy aims and to encourage use of the design philosophies in the purchasing process for new equipment.
EMESRT: Vision, purpose and scope
An industry free of fatalities, injuries and occupational illnesses associated with operating and maintaining surface earth moving equipment
Accelerate development and adoption of leading practice designs for earth moving equipment to minimize the risk to Health and Safety through a process of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and user engagement
- Focus on design of earth moving equipment operating on the surface at mines
- Provide aligned design expectations based on risk
- As member companies, provide resources and funding for EMESRT activities
- Share openly with all interested OEMs and companies in the mining industry
- Listen, consider and value OEM contributions
- Provide information on leading practice to OEMs
- Assist users with achievement of Health, Safety, Environment and Community goals through sharing leading practice
We will not:
- Discuss commercial issues or anything of an antitrust nature
- Share OEM confidential information with other OEMs
- Provide approval for OEM or third party design
- Impose adoption of solutions on member company sites
EMESRT design philosophies
- Equipment access & egress
- Working at heights
- Whole-body vibration
- Isolation of energy, including parking
- Visibility/collision detection & avoidance
- Machine stability/slope indication
- Displays, controls including labeling
- Tires & rims
- Manual material handling
- Operator workstation
- Confined spaces
Caterpillar and EMESRT: Working together
As part of their North American OEM meeting schedule, EMESRT representatives recently participated in a day-long forum at Caterpillar’s Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center, sharing their progress with Caterpillar product group leaders and other stakeholders, and listening to improvements and potential solutions under development at Caterpillar.
“There’s no doubt Caterpillar is committing resources to better equipment design and we commend them for that,” says Tony Egan from Xstrata Coal. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to challenge them to do more.”
Caterpillar’s Dan Hellige, safety and sustainable development manager in the Global Mining Division, welcomes the input. “Sometimes the challenge has been getting that input. We welcome it. You’re helping us keep pace.”
Hellige says he feels confident that EMESRT and Caterpillar can work together because they share common goals. “EMESRT knows that we are invested in this process and will do all we can to listen to concerns and keep those lines of communication open.”