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Showcasing fatigue & distraction management technologies at MINExpo

From Sept. 26-28, MINExpo 2016 brought more than 44,000 people to Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, to see the latest products, technologies, services and solutions for the mining industry.

Two of the most prominent topics at the show — safety and technology — came together in the Caterpillar exhibit. The manufacturer’s display featured technology products that help improve safety, videos showing real results from companies that are using safety-enhancing technologies, and a number of subject matter experts who shared their expertise on how technology can help make mine sites safer.

One of the main safety focuses in the booth centered around operator fatigue and distraction, a safety challenge that is difficult to see but one that imposes a number of risks — from serious injuries and fatalities to significant impacts on the bottom line.

“Evolving scientific knowledge of the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation and chronic sleep restriction on alertness, health and performance has resulted in an increased awareness of fatigue as a threat to safety,” says Caterpillar’s Mitch Cowart, one of the fatigue experts who worked on the MINExpo exhibit.

“One global mining company reported to us their own eight-year analysis,” he says, with drowsiness suspected as a factor in 70 percent of the 1,348 vehicle accidents during that time period. “This company identified fatigue as the root cause for $51 million in direct costs — and five fatalities.”

Showcasing fatigue technology

There’s no question that fatigue is a problem on mine sites around the world. Fortunately there are a number of new technologies that combine with an overall risk management system to create a holistic solution to address this important challenge. As part of its MINExpo display, Caterpillar showcased its complete offerings in this area.

The centerpiece of the fatigue display was a demonstration unit of the Cat Driver Safety System (DSS), an in-cab fatigue and distraction monitoring system. The technology monitors eye-closure duration and head pose to detect fatigue and distraction, and then immediately alerts the operator through vehicle seat vibration and / or an audio alarm.

“At MINExpo, people could experience the technology for themselves,” says Cowart. “They would just simply step onto a thin platform and look straight ahead. Within seconds — even with sunglasses on — the Driver Safety System would build a digital ‘blueprint’ of their face and head, based on more than 22 facial features. Then, with our explanation and coaching, they would slowly close their eyes as though they were experiencing a micro-sleep. Almost instantly the system would detect the micro-sleep and vibrate the platform they were standing on.”

Cowart says attendees approached the technology with curiosity, expressed surprise at how it works, and eventually began to appreciate what it makes possible. “At first people just thought it was really cool,” he says. “Then they began to understand that this system is really important. They realize that it can actually save lives.”

The MINExpo display also provided information on another technology: the Cat Smartband, a wearable tool for operators to personally monitor and manage fatigue. The device automatically detects sleep and wake periods, gathers data and converts it into an effectiveness score — viewable at any time with the push of a button.

Combining data with expertise

New safety technologies are valuable in making operators and their supervisors aware of fatigue events as they happen, and helping them take appropriate action to reduce the immediate danger. But it’s the data they provide that allows mine sites to have a significant impact on reducing the long-term risks and impacts of fatigue and distraction.

“Because it’s hard to measure, a lot of people don’t have the data on fatigue to justify allocating resources to mitigate or manage the threat,” says Cowart. “These technologies are providing that information.”

Data from the Smartband, for example, can be aggregated for the entire crew, filtered by specific groups, and exported from a web application for further analysis. When incorporated into the Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool (FAST), the data can be used to understand risk and model and predict performance. The tool can analyze work schedules, travel periods and accident reports to help managers schedule workers for increased safety and performance.

Similarly, the DSS information can be sent to Caterpillar’s 24/7 Fleet Monitoring Center, where experts will analyze the data and provide customized reporting with site-level recommendations on how to address the issues. In addition, by cross-referencing fatigue and distraction events against available equipment data, Caterpillar can provide suggestions to improve operational efficiency.

Caterpillar uses these technology-enabled solutions when delivering a Fatigue Risk Assessment — gathering data, analyzing it, and reporting to leaders to help them interpret the findings. “The assessment gives them the power to see how the threat of fatigue is impacting their operations,” says Cowart. “For the first time they have visibility to fatigue.”

While MINExpo was a great opportunity to showcase new technology offerings for fatigue management, Cowart stresses the importance of making those solutions part of a holistic solution in a journey toward zero incidents.

Minexpo 2016

“Those companies committed to safety were very interested in Caterpillar’s comprehensive approach — the Fatigue Risk Management System,” says Cowart. The system combines technology, people, processes and systems — along with comprehensive monitoring and analysis capabilities — to reliably reduce the risk of operator fatigue. It helps mine sites educate their people, assess their risk, build and implement a plan, engage and motivate workers, measure and track, and continuously improve.

Recognizing the ongoing challenge

The fatigue management technologies and solutions presented at MINExpo are giving mine sites the tools and information they need to predict, measure and mitigate fatigue and distraction risks. But while it can be managed, fatigue will always be a challenge as long as people are involved in the process.

“We talked about autonomous mining a lot in our exhibit,” says Cowart. “We expect that in the future all equipment will be controlled by a computer. But today all equipment is controlled by biological computers — human brains. The human brain is the most sophisticated computer in the world, and while it’s very powerful, it’s also very volatile.”

The human brain cannot run continuously in the awake state, Cowart points out. “It just wasn’t designed to do that. When you run these computers in the awake mode they begin to run down, performance wanes, they run slower. So periodically you have to give these computers maintenance, service them, flush out the toxins and recharge the neurons.”

Cowart says that when our brains are running between 90 and 100 percent of cognitive performance, they are in the normal range of operation — but anything below 90 percent is considered fatigue. And in this state, the “control module” exhibits symptoms like:

“As long as most mining equipment is controlled by biological computers, fatigue is going to be a risk,” says Cowart. “And Caterpillar will be there to help customers see, mitigate and manage this risk.”

To learn more about fatigue and the Caterpillar solutions to help combat it, visit: www.cat.com/fatigue

Visit Cat Mining to learn more.

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