Moving on a path to best practice in mine road safety

Road signs are a key part of intersection design. Image: ARRB

Mining equipment is moving all day long, a safety risk that has the attention of Australia’s national transport research organisation. ARRB’s David McTiernan tells Vanessa Zhou where the gaps are in road safety.

With the year edging to a close, it’s time for the mining industry to recognise National Safe Work Month in October. It’s a pivotal time to draw people’s attention to why safety is the number one priority in the industry.

There is a popular phrase that everyone deserves to go home safely each day. The statement, as cliché as it may sound, holds weight up to this day because of the truth it carries.

National Safe Work Month initiator, Safe Work Australia, has dedicated the campaign to endorsing safety performance at a best practice level.

The Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) is a “safety champion”, as Safe Work coins it, that ensures safety ambition is realised on every project it works on.

“The National Safe Work Month is a great initiative because it raises the awareness of safety issues on mine sites. From the ARRB’s perspective, it’s certainly raising the profile of road safety issues,” ARRB state technical leader New South Wales and national leader transport safety David McTiernan tells Safe to Work.

Road safety has been ARRB’s well-trodden path as the company verges on celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2020. 

ARRB has built its road safety knowledge through decades of research into the construction, maintenance and management of public roads, ushering the privately-owned company into a new space that is the mining sector.

“With over 20 years of conducting road safety audits and reviews, we found many common issues in all the mine sites we went to, and so we developed a two-day workshop around the topic of mine haul road safety and design,” McTiernan says.

“We have been delivering that workshop since 2012, and it has generated a lot of interest in the sector to make mine haul roads safer. But there is always more to do, with new mines coming online and changes in operations and technology occur.”

The road design and traffic management pundit, who previously spent 16 years in the local government, now enjoys a fruitful collaboration and the opportunity of working with a room full of mine engineers and superintendents eager to understand how they can make the roads on their sites safer.

These mining professionals have the chance to influence ARRB’s recommendations and push the company’s custom solutions in the direction of what is safer and practical in their operations, McTiernan says.

Though mine sites face common problems when it comes to road safety, it doesn’t mean there is a one-size-fits-all solution for them.

Based on ARRB’s experience conducting road safety audits in more than 50 mine sites globally, there are lots of issues that mining operators should pay attention to.

“You’ve got to take into consideration the size of the mobile equipment operating on site, the type of mining workforce involved and ultimately the constraints of the site operations,” McTiernan says.

They include light and heavy vehicle interactions, which at times may not
be properly considered during the design of the mine’s haul road network and its support facilities, such as processing plants, railheads and even port facilities.

Different design configurations, including at go-lines, are also necessary to minimise pedestrian access and the interaction between light and heavy vehicles.

The risk of having light vehicles run over by a haul truck can be eliminated by controlling interactions or developing layouts to take light vehicles off the haul road altogether, McTiernan suggests.

“Road design and traffic management is a specialised area where miners don’t usually operate,” he says. “But mine haul roads are a vital part of every mine, and they do more than just get the product from pit to port.

“For example, there are lots of issues pertaining to safety on mine haul roads and the management of traffic that are common in all Australian and international operations.”

 

McTiernan sees familiar cases where traffic signs aren’t used in mine sites, or when they are, they were incorrectly used.

A haul truck operator or a mine supervisor driving down a public road will understand the meaning of a particular road sign, but it may have a different meaning when used incorrectly at a mine site, he adds.

There’s also reason to suspect that fatigue may be a significant contributing factor in mine vehicle crashes more than it is an issue on the public road network.

Unsurprisingly, mine drivers experience a higher level of fatigue as they operate on a 24/7 basis.

In addition, driver fatigue can lead to an even bigger problem when coupled with poor road arrangements and lighting, according to McTiernan.

“It’s really important to make sure that road design is predictable, and that proper advice, warning signs and delineation of the road have been highlighted. Remember that mine drivers operate different sizes of vehicles in all sorts of weather conditions day and night,”
McTiernan says.

In a recent mine incident investigation, ARRB found that fatigue wasn’t so much the cause of a light and heavy vehicle collision, but rather the condition of driving at night and being exposed to different forms of lighting that caused confusion.

The drivers were fortunate the incident didn’t result in a fatality, but McTiernan says it’s important to always challenge the way something is done.

“Just because it has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it can’t be done better and without impacting productivity,” McTiernan challenges.

Australian mine operations have, nonetheless, been the leaders of road safety around the world, he says.

ARRB has been able to take its Australian road safety experience, in particular in intersection designs, to overseas operations in Canada, Chile, Papua New Guinea and Peru.

International mine sites, which are facing common industry issues in the road safety space, have been the destination for ARRB’s application of Australian knowledge in investigating and preventing similar incidents from occurring.

After all, ARRB has mastered the rules of road design, delineation and signs in intersection design to optimise mine road safety.

“This is why our collaboration with mine sites helps us deliver the best solution to each individual operation,” McTiernan says.

“Mining operators take away the company’s input for adoption or even adaptation, but one thing for sure is, they always come back saying they’ve learned something new or gained a new perspective on the way they have done things in the past. And that’s what ARRB tries to do.”

This article also appears in the Oct–Dec edition of Safe to Work.