Accelerated trends of autonomy in mining and increased reliance on data have pushed training to the fore to ensure workers have adequate skills. Viion reveals the most critical training areas and why.
Where does the reliability of data end and human expertise start?
Technologies are being developed and improved every day to enable mining operators to harness the power of data, but there are still holes that only human workers can address.
As greater automation takes root across Australia’s mining sector, human employees remain irreplaceable.
While data is extremely valuable to improving training and mitigating risks, it is often incomplete, variable from site to site and misreported. It is susceptible to murky human factors that can lead to errors and incidents.
“Human expertise closes the gap, allowing an individual’s experience and intuitive knowledge of operating in complex situations to help adapt to uncertain conditions where the data isn’t applicable,” Whit Missildine, chief learning officer at Viion, a company that has worked with Rio Tinto and St Barbara, says.
“We need to understand the limits of data as well as the limits of human expertise.”
Just as mining companies are making investments in data software, an investment in human expertise remains critical.
Employees are essential to gathering, interpreting and applying data in an improved manner. Their expertise will always be necessary to knowing what data to collect, how to interpret it, how and when it applies and to close the gap when limits are reached.
With changes happening on a mine site by the day, or even the hour, high-level experts capable of responding to the situation and adapting their actions are required.
Virtual reality (VR) technology allows training designers to develop new scenarios extremely quickly and help operators develop expertise much faster than real life is capable of, thanks to its immersive learning experience.
“It allows us to give people experiences and experience where it is most required,” Missildine says. “It is targeted and adaptive to the individuals needs, rather than generic across an entire training population.”
New site requirements, changing circumstances and ambiguous conditions all challenge operators to rely on experience and intuition to adapt. Employee training can expose weaknesses or dangers in these scenarios before an incident occurs. A simulated environment is a suitable place to explore these safely, without any risks to real life failure.
Missildine says scenarios can be rapidly adapted and progressed, bringing scenario designs that would otherwise be too complicated, expensive or dangerous to simulate in the real world.
“The most valuable high stakes environments to train for are those in which human error in decision-making contributes most to critical outcomes,” Missildine says.
“For example, a mechanical failure due to a manufacturing or supply chain issue may lead to a disastrous event, but the solution involves looking into maintenance practices, procurement or supply chain management within the organisation.
“But many high stakes mining incidents are the result of human error, based on issues like situation awareness, attentional focus, deviation from protocol, etc. These mindset and behavioural factors are where better training has its biggest potential impact.”
This is how human expertise and technology interact with each other. One picks up where the other left off.
By simulating infrequent, high consequence events, an immersive training method can also expose employees to events that only occur once or twice a decade, but are highly critical, within a much shorter time period.
While the way in which humans learn new information hasn’t changed in the brain for thousands of years, VR-delivered training helps accelerate the rate and manner by which workers are exposed to challenging conditions, increasing skills retention and decreasing time to proficiency.
It highlights an opportunity for workers to discover solutions to problems on their own, rather than imitating a standard procedure – which increases engagement and enhances recall.
This may include training catered to experienced site employees, who are known to be more susceptible to taking shortcuts, have declining risk awareness, and be overconfident and unprepared for changes in protocol. Issues such as these are often unaddressed by mining operators.
“Workers need to be continually trained. Safety research shows that novice operators are not necessarily more likely to be involved in safety incidents than those with more experience,” Missildine concludes.
“More refresher training is something the mining industry knows it needs more of, but doesn’t do adequately.”
This article also appears in the July-August edition of Safe to Work.