BHP trials breakthrough underground safety technology at Broadmeadow

Image: BHP

BHP has moved to improve the safety at its underground mines by launching proximity detection shuttle cars – an Australian first for the coal industry.

Shuttle cars are considered to be a high-risk piece of equipment in underground mines, being used to transport coal from the development face to the coal clearance system.

Their job is to unload hundreds of tonnes of coal per shift, making it imperative to the successful operation of mines.

The underground mining industry has seen a plethora of injuries and even fatalities due to workers coming into contact with mobile equipment underground, which has led to BHP Mitsubishi Alliance’s Broadmeadow mine to investigate a solution.

It looked at ways to use proximity detection technology to reduce the potential exposure and risk workers have while working underground.

The proximity detection system uses low frequency magnetic field generators, which are installed in the shuttle cars, to detect two zones.

Zone one, which is the warning zone, detects when pedestrians are in the area and automatically slows down, with the operator and pedestrian both being alerted via flashing orange beacons and alarms on the vehicle and cap lamps.

Zone two, the danger zone, involves a red flashing beacon and alarms sounding, in this instance importantly, the machine will automatically stop.

A team of electricians and engineers combined with the knowledge of operators to initially trial proximity detection in Broadmeadow’s underground shuttle cars.

The team, led by project manager Glenn Owens and project execution lead Dave Zanette, spent months planning and developing the idea, before successfully launching the proximity detection shuttle cars in full auto and stop modes.

“Keeping our people safe is always our highest priority so implementing this technology is a huge step forward in the future of underground mine safety,” Zanette said.

“It also has the potential to be replicated across all of our BHP underground and surface assets and throughout the broader industry, ultimately making mining safer for our people.”

The project is in the trial phase, with two of Broadmeadow’s shuttle cars already fitted with the system.

All shuttle cars in the Broadmeadow mine’s development panels are on track to operate the system by the first quarter of 2020.

The project team will also be testing the technology on other mobile equipment at the Broadmeadows site such as personnel transporters, load-haul-dump loaders, shield haulers and selected surface mobile equipment.