New South Wales releases autonomous mining guidelines

The New South Wales Resources Regulator has introduced an autonomous mobile mining plant guideline to prevent risks associated with the technology.

It has flagged the risks associated with the introduction of remote-controlled, semi-autonomous and autonomous mining equipment.

“…The change in process and machine functionality will introduce new risks. These risks must be identified and controlled,” the regulator stated in the guideline.

The guideline is applicable to haul trucks, loaders, dozers, grader, water carts, blast hole drill rigs, excavators and load haul dumps/boggers.

According to the regulator, risks associated with autonomous equipment include being crushed when being too closed to remote-operated controlled machines, and the risk of being crushed by an automatically advancing roof support in long wall mining.

The guidelines also hope to address the loss of sensory awareness awareness (sight, hearing, touch and smell) that occurs when removing machinery operators from the mine site for remote operations.

“The introduction of autonomous mining equipment, while reducing risks to some workers, will expose other workers to additional and different risks,” the regulator said.

“This necessitates a thorough and rigorous risk assessment process to be completed to understand the limitations of existing controls, the identification of new controls and the implementation of these controls to ensure that risks are managed to an acceptable level.”

The regulator has a legislative requirement for operators to provide a review of hazard management and control plans when introducing autonomous equipment.

It also has outlined the need to conduct risk assessments that identify critical controls that prevent the dangers of autonomous equipment.

“While autonomous operation, by definition, means there will not be people onboard machines, it does not mean there will be no people in the autonomous operating zone (AOZ),” the regulator stated.

“There are tasks such as workplace inspections, machinery inspections, maintenance tasks and repairs.

“Risk assessments for the introduction and operation of autonomous machines must consider all foreseeable scenarios where it is possible for people to interact with the machines, or where the machines may interact with other equipment or infrastructure.”