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Forensic Laser Scanning Applied to the Mining Industry

This paper on forensic laser scanning comes from researchers at the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.


In the South African mining industry, great emphasis is placed on creating a safe, healthy, and productive working environment. Fatalities have a major impact on the perception of mining as a career and are detrimental to the image of the industry as a good and safe working environment. All mining companies have embarked on focused risk management programmes. The occurrence of serious incidents and related fatalities is, however, still unacceptably high, and more emphasis should be placed on strategies in order to be able to achieve the ‘zero harm’ goal adopted by all South African mines. History has proved that fatalities are ‘cyclical’ in nature. Bad periods are often followed by good periods due to the subsequent intense attention to improving adherence to standards. However, the aim is to minimize these cycles and pursue a real drive towards zero harm. Here, the use of laser technology in incident investigations can play a significant role.

Good risk management practice and mine health and safety legislation place an obligation on mine operators to investigate injury incidents with a view to learning from control failures and continuously improving conditions at mine sites. Different companies have developed in-house policies and procedures to provide guidance to their personnel on what to do when an incident occurs in the workplace, and how to handle the site, the investigation, and its outcomes. In general, the aim of the procedures is to ensure compliance with the law, communicate incidents, and align with the principles of consistency and transparency on a risk-related basis.

Forensic surveying of mine incidents has always been the responsibility of the mine surveyor. Such forensic surveying is still a combination of traditional traversing methods and tape surveying. Traditional surveying methods, photographs, videos, incident reconstruction simulations, and advanced scanning are used to document and reconstruct an incident, detailing risk in real time and simplifying the process of risk analysis. The outcome of the latter provides risk levels dependent on the effectiveness of critical controls captured in real time. However, the traditional surveying methods often cannot do justice to the full 3D domain in which the incident took place, and furthermore they expose the survey crew to the high-risk environment that contributed to the incident in the first place. Through the years many incidents have occurred where the outcome was, for example, assigned to failure to recognize the hazard, inappropriate behaviour, risk management systems that failed, and many more. Over the past 20 years we have been doing risk assessments in the South African mining industry, and still we do not always correctly identify the root cause of an incident. The low level of detail obtained by conventional surveying is no longer appropriate in the changing world of technology and data availability.

Laser scanning for forensic analysis of road accidents and crime scenes has been developed to such an extent that evidence obtained through this method is expected and required for any formal investigation process. In the mining industry, laser scanning has at last been adopted for day-to-day activities, and new applications for scanning data are developed on an almost daily basis. A significant improvement in risk management has been shown where mines have adopted the principle of multilateral hazard identification through the inclusion of laser scanning, along with multiple control regimes, to avoid repeats of incidents. Laser scanning provides an accurate, unambiguous picture of a defined area of the mine. Aftermath scenarios set forth in a ‘bow tie analysis’ support the fact that the laser scanning process will serve as a silent visual witness to any near-miss event, deteriorating condition, or lack of critical control systems. Persons involved in control analysis are more alert to observing control breakdown mechanisms. Real-time laser scanning will further enhance the decision-making process, resulting in a more robust and well-defined judgement relating to the incident.

Accident/incident classifications

Incidents are classified as either reportable or non-reportable, and can be further defined as minor or major incidents. These classifications are important in the sense that resource mobilization to handle any incident depends on how it is classified. This varied treatment of incidents, depending on whether they are minor or major, reportable or non-reportable, is pervasive throughout all the reviewed mine procedures.
A major incident is a significant event which demands a response beyond the routine. Significance is determined by the severity of the incident, the potential degree of public concern, and the nature and extent of previous such incidents. Any incident that has led to the death of an employee or a contractor’s employee, or that has caused a serious threat to the health of any employee which could result in death, will fall into this category. This definition is an indication of why the incidents are treated differently.

For the complete paper click here.

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