Canadian Mining Journal


A look at how mobile apps can improve mine safety

Mine operators have become increasingly sophisticated in developing safety programs that protect workers and overall operations.

Mine operators have become increasingly sophisticated in developing safety programs that protect workers and overall operations.

That said, worker and site-safety reporting for compliance and regulatory requirements has historically been heavily reliant upon paper forms and manual processes – which can negatively impact reporting accuracy and timeliness, the costs associated with safety programs, and the productivity of workers responsible for these tasks.

The need to evaluate mine safety programs is accelerated by requests for real-time documentation on worker/site safety and injuries, among other requirements.

For mine operators seeking to enhance worker and site-safety reporting, and compliance, switching from paper forms and Excel spreadsheets to mobile apps offers several key benefits.

Mobile apps for inspections improve quality control

When it comes to conducting quality control, safety and compliance inspections at mine sites, paper forms introduce several vulnerabilities and inefficiencies. Workers could report inspecting a site they never visited, and workers must rewrite the same information over and over, use expensive carbon copies that are hard to read and easily lost, and are limited to text-only data.

And then if there is a safety issue. It could take hours, or days, to get the information to the right person in order to deal with the issue.

Mobile inspection apps allow your mining business to build in-time and date stamps, as well as GPS location, to help ensure inspections are being done correctly and in accordance with company and industry regulations.

Mobile inspection apps also allow for multimedia (photos, etc.) to more easily report complicated issues and provide visual proof as needed.

Finally, rather than collecting and filing multiple rounds of paper inspection form signatures, digital signatures can be collected directly on the smartphone or tablet device using just a finger or stylus. Mobile apps also create a standardized process for collecting important data.

Mobile apps address cost challenges of safety reporting

Historically, all but the largest mine operators were priced out of custom building mobile business apps. Even if a mine operator could budget for one app – which may only work on some mobile platforms and devices – evolving business requirements would mean that the functional value of the app to employees and others might decrease over time. Then, the mine operator would be forced to spend more money customizing or changing the app over and over again.

Not only are custom mobile app builds expensive, but they also tie up precious IT resources that can be better spent in other areas of the business. The good news for mine operators is that cloud-based app builder tools and even third-party business app stores are removing these traditional cost and resource barriers.

In fact, Canvas’ recently released 2nd Annual Mobile Business App survey finds that 68 per cent of organizations were able to build a mobile business app in one day or less using cloud-based tools. In most cases, the apps were built by individuals who held little to no programming or IT expertise at all.

Mobile apps strengthen safety programs

The accessibility of mobile apps can ensure that safety does not take a back seat to budget – especially during down economic cycles when mine operators must make hard choices and could be tempted to short shrift certain safety measures and even underreport injuries.

According to the Office of the Inspector General’s 2014 audit of the United States Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), more than 9,000 injuries went unreported from 2000 to 2012, resulting in more than $1 million in missed penalty fees.

 “Mine operators benefit from having low rates of reported injuries/illnesses,” the audit states. “High rates of injury or illness can increase workers’ compensation expenses and may single out mines for increased enforcement by MSHA.”

Ultimately a safety program must not only protect workers but also maximize the time of employees and supervisors while keeping costs down. Mine operators are going to have to remain at the top of their game when it comes to safety — which means not overlooking MSHA’s requests for documents like employee medical and personnel records, or putting off paying delinquent fines.

Mobile apps strengthen self-audit programs

Unlike large-scale mining operations, small to mid-sized mines typically lack the bandwidth for an internal team of safety specialists to manage training and ensure that regulations are met in a timely fashion. By leveraging DIY app builder tools and cloud-based mobile app solutions, operators are able to enhance safety operations without the need for staffing resources that are typically not available. 

Mine operators can in effect digitize manual processes and paper forms for self-audits through the use of cloud-based mobile apps. Essentially, a self-audit walks mine operators through the main areas MSHA inspectors will evaluate when they visit the mine, while prompting you to consider whether or not you meet compliance. Self audits can be enhanced through greater accuracy and efficiency by using mobile apps instead of paper forms, and while they typically don’t cover every single standard, they do touch on key parts of an inspection, including:

Mandatory safety policies. Necessary safety policies range from the competent person you designate to handle emergencies to hazard communications and signage.

Records and examinations. Required records span from accident, illness, and injury reports to proper documentation for all independent contractors, material safety data sheets (MSDSs), and records of routine inspections on machinery and equipment.

Fire prevention. This includes proper on-site equipment for fighting all stages of a fire, records of routine inspections of fire extinguishers and hydrostatic testing, and appropriate storage of oxygen cylinders, explosives, and waste materials.

Electrical. Assessments in this area involve the set up and maintenance of fuses and circuit breakers, guarding lights, grounding, insulation on wires and cables, lockout/tagout procedures, and transformation enclosures.

Loading, Hauling, and Dumping. This covers everything from backup alarms, brakes, window construction, and seat belts on mobile equipment to berms at dumping locations, loose slopes, dust control, and road cleanup.

Machinery and Equipment. Included here are conveyor warnings, guard construction, guarding against falling or flying materials or moving machine parts, and high pressure hose safety chains.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and Practices. PPE encompasses the use of glasses, hard hats, foot ware, noise, scaffolding, fall protection equipment, general housekeeping, passageways, dust overexposure, access to toilets, and more.

For mine operators grappling with how to manage worker and site-safety compliance, and reporting cost-effectively and efficiently, mobile apps provide a compelling approach relative to paper forms and manual processes. 

Michael Benedict is vice-president, application store at Canvas, a leading provider of cloud-based software that enables businesses to replace paper forms and processes with customizable mobile apps for smartphones and tablets.

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