How Robots Can Be a Game Changer for Human Safety in Mining


Date published
December 19, 2022

Human safety remains one of the most pressing issues in the mining industry. Miners work in  dangerous environments, and are subject to threats like:

  • ground faults in underground circuitry (which can lead to shocks, burns, and fires),
  • mine collapses,
  • explosions,
  • exposure to hazardous fumes and dust particles,
  • earthquakes, and more.  

To understand the impact of these concerns, one only needs to look at the domestic & international figures about mining accidents. 

The Australian Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety report for 2020-21 noted that there were 402 safety incidents that qualify as "serious." Away from home, 37 U.S. miners lost their lives due to work-related accidents, whilst the Ontario mining sector in Canada reported a total of 1267 mining-related injuries.

Since its initial introduction to the industry in the early 2000s, modern robotics has played a pivotal role in the combatting of this long-standing issue. As a result of their demonstrated benefits to human safety and productivity there has been a massively increased investment in robotic solutions within the mining sector over this period.. In the following we explore the  ways in which robots can significantly reduce workplace hazards in the mining industry. 

How Robots Can Boost Human Safety in Mining

1) Automating Dangerous Tasks

The simplest and most effective way of addressing workplace hazards is to isolate workers from the hazards completely. Robots can be operated remotely using a software to carry out core mining processes, removing the presence of workers from these hazardous environments entirely.

Utilising robotic capabilities, these solutions can be used to carry out the most dangerous tasks that are required in mining - be it inspections, mining in new terrains, or the overall logistics around heavy loads. 

2) Detecting Workplace Hazards Early On

As covered above, some worksite threats cannot be detected in advance. When working in remote areas, it is imperative that mining workers are notified of a threat as early as possible so they have enough time to evacuate the premises before anyone gets hurt.

Thankfully, robots have been instrumental in gathering data that goes toward detecting hazards that would otherwise go unnoticed until it’s too late. 

3) Optimising Ventilation Underground

In many cases, mines are located in areas with little to no ventilation. This can lead to a buildup of fumes and overheating, which can be dangerous for workers. However, by using robots, conditions that are unfavorable to humans become less of an issue.

Robots can also help gather information regarding these conditions. Robots equipped with sensors can  monitor conditions in the mine. They can help identify when and where ventilation is needed. This information can then be used to adjust airflow accordingly, which will keep workers safe by reducing the risk of exposure to fumes and overheating. By optimising ventilation, AI can help make mines safer for workers and improve overall efficiency.

4) Reducing Human Error

Human error is an inevitable factor, no matter how well-trained an individual is. In the workplace, human error can cause accidents, despite best efforts to follow safety protocols.  Statistics have shown that human error accounts for almost all workplace-related accidents. This tends to happen during repetitive work, where people may become bored, distracted, or forget routine safety steps that result in lapses of judgement.

Today, mining companies can breathe a sigh of relief with a properly defined robotics system in place. These technologies will abide by safety protocols and deliver consistent results as long as their programming adheres to the company’s safety standards. 

5) Preventing Machine Breakdowns

Every year, mining companies spend millions of dollars on maintenance and repairs to keep their equipment running smoothly. But what if there was a way to predict when a machine was going to break down before it actually happened?

A company that goes a step beyond robots and makes use of AI models can benefit here.  By using predictive maintenance based on information the robots collect, AI can help mining companies avoid costly downtime due to equipment malfunctions. By monitoring data from the robots, AI can detect patterns that indicate an impending failure. This allows companies to take preventive action to avoid the problem altogether.

In addition to preventing breakdowns, predictive maintenance can also help extend the life of mining equipment. By catching problems early, companies can make repairs before the damage becomes too severe. This can save millions of dollars in replacement costs over time.

6) Making Good Systems Better

Connected robots in a mine can gather information as they operate, which can be studied by engineers and mining experts  to reveal weaknesses and strengths in existing processes in place. With the help of these robots, the organization can gather data on usage and incident patterns on the worksite. This information can guide mining companies to enhance their workflows in order to make them as harmless and efficient as possible. Robots that support this process through information collection will be critical.

Spot inspecting with a camera on site.

The Future of Mining and Robotics

As we have covered, significant improvements have been made in automating mining, as has the progress of robots that keep humans safe. While there is still great room for potential and opportunity, man-machine partnerships in the mining industry are only projected to grow over the next few years as we continue to seek after precious minerals that power our civilisation today. 

We at Chironix believe that robotics will not replace but supplement the work of employees around the world. With that vision, we strive to create autonomous teammates of the future that can work hand in hand with mining workers to create a safer and better workplace. 

With PilotOS, our state-of-the-art software, you can monitor, command, and control a fleet of robots and unmanned ground vehicles. This allows for the handling of core tasks on live mine sites without placing humans at any risk whatsoever. The platform also allows every robot on a site to be accounted for and followed at all times. Get in touch with us today to find out more!