An Integrated Electronic Security System In Mining

By Darren Bracey.

When it comes to managing security on a mine site, Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) requirements overlap in many areas and are seen as integral in others. Operational mines present numerous challenges when it comes to ensuring the safety of employees and the general public. Quite often, the requirement to ensure the prevention of unauthorised access to the mine site is as much for safety and wellbeing of the person entering the site as it is for the security of the site.

Controlling access to a site is a requirement under mining legislation and this can be seen as an opportunity to enhance compliance in a number of areas. So what if compliance to OH&S systems was controlled along with the access privileges for that person to enter the site? Many sites utilise some type of security software to manage the onsite/offsite interactions. These are stand-alone systems that provide a means to allow or deny access as per the privileges granted to that person.

As companies strive to reduce their overheads and simplify complex IT infrastructure, opportunities exist to integrate some compliance functions with security systems.  This is one area taking hold in a number of operations across Australia.  Utilise these systems at the point of entry to a site to assist in maintaining OH&S compliance requirements across a number of areas.

Although each mine site is unique, there are many compliance functions that are similar across all sites, such as ensuring up-to-date fitness for work requirements, or the health and fatigue management of employees and contractors.

Traditional security systems allow for the management of:

  • Cardholders;
  • alarm monitoring (intruder & others);
  • visitors access;
  • access expiries.

Historically, security software allowed the site to manage persons entering and exiting from the operation but little else. Developments over a number of years have added functionality such as alarm monitoring, fire systems and, in general, any situation that can be installed as an input into the system. But are there further opportunities to add value to these electronic security systems for management of much more than the day-to-day activities?

Looking purely at electronic security software packages, what if these systems could integrate into larger corporate applications, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications? Enhancements and developments across many of the systems have enabled the cross-use of electronic security software.

The front gate of a mine site is the ideal opportunity to initiate the process required to ensure movement of authorised personnel with minimum effort, while ensuring all the necessary training, induction and other entry requirements are valid and current. Due to industry pressure, software developers have looked beyond the typical functionality of a purely security software suite and have
commenced looking at how product can add value to the site with the introduction to their suites of improved software and more technical functionality.

Given the complexity of IT infrastructure and the number of software packages deployed across the industry as a whole, there is a general push to reduce the number of these systems, thereby reducing costs in areas such as purchasing, licence maintenance and overall system management.

The duplication of systems greatly decreases the efficiency and business workflow resulting in a more fractured work process. The sooner a person is able to enter the site and begin meaningful work, the sooner the business benefits.

The requirement to operate numerous software applications opens the opportunity for integration across the site’s Standard Operation System (SOE). This integration of the security software into the operation’s existing platforms provides for a more efficient and streamlined operational approach. At a day-to-day level, the more integration the site has implemented, the smoother the workflow and business processes operate. Areas that have been integrated already are:

  • competency management;
  • Health Management (periodic health assessments, hygiene monitoring & testing);
  • Fit for Work (drug & alcohol testing, fatigue management);
  • underground electronic tagging;
  • tool and equipment tracking;
  • time and attendance reporting.

Competency-based management of personnel to restrict access to areas of a mine site ensures they have the necessary inductions, training and authorisation to enter the work area or site at the time of entry, therefore restricting the accessibility for those unauthorised.

Recent changes in social expectations and legislative requirements now require companies to ensure that persons entering a mine site are in a fit state to work. Random drug/alcohol and fatigue management is common practice throughout the industry, and strongly advocated through various government agencies.

Privacy safeguards have been negotiated with unions and workforces to ensure processes introduced and the data collected are used for the sole purpose of identifying the workers fitness for work on that site. Using security software for the cardholder selection process can ensure that it is a transparent and random process, free from company interference, and therefore satisfying
all stakeholders.

Other areas of opportunity may exist and provide a further streamlined approach. Electronic tagging in an underground operation can greatly reduce the time, when an evacuation is required, by providing real time data for the control room. This has been proven to be highly effective across a number of underground operations in Queensland.

Although there are risks associated with any electronic system, enough layers of defence can be installed to mitigate the risks. The fall-back position for any mine would be still a manual tagging system. Quite a simple option, should a failure occur.

Proven examples of improvements with evacuation processes include a large, complex operation reducing the time taken to evacuate its workforce from one hour and 45 minutes, using a manual system, to having the mine cleared in 12 minutes with an electronic system.

This clearly shows that the right system can benefit workers’ safety. An electronic system also demonstrates that with a substantial time reduction and improvement in clearing the workforce, the mine can then concentrate on the emergency. Knowing that all workers are in safe areas and have been accounted for, is a win for all concerned.

Electronic security management software can be applied to the use and management of explosives and explosives security. Given the stringent requirements for explosives security at mine sites, opportunities exist to enable the monitoring of the personnel authorised to access the magazines and assist with record management.

With the myriad of legislative requirements that restrict a person’s access to explosives, it is imperative that the site’s managers initiate processes to ensure compliance with the
relative legislation.

For example, the expiry of authorisations can be linked to a worker’s access to an explosives magazine in the same manner as the management software regulates only those personnel with current competencies onto the site.

Further integration of other systems, such as tool tracking and inventory management, can utilise the existing security access card. Information relating to each employee or contractor onsite, already stored on the ERP, can further reduce the requirement for duplication of worker information.

For a site that is well secured, an area of benefit could be the utilisation of the system for assistance in the management of contractor hours worked through time and attendance reporting. Invoices can be easily reconciled against time and attendance reporting, reducing the risks of over or underpayment or even fraudulent activities.

History shows that if a mine site is considering or asking questions about improving their systems, they tend not to be the only ones looking for a solution to that issue. More often than not, these questions have been asked at miners’ board tables around Australia. They are not unique to a particular site or commodity.

Looking outside the box when it comes to security software solutions may provide excellent opportunities, not only to streamline work processes, meet legislative obligations and improve security, but also introduce new
and improved methods of managing the workforce. Thinking outside the box can
pay off.

Darren Bracey is the Emergency & Protective Services Superintendent for Xstrata Copper’s North Queensland Operations. This role involves the management of both electronic and physical security services, emergency response and crisis management systems across Xstrata Copper’s North Queensland assets. These assets include open-cut, underground and heavy plant areas from Mount Isa to the Townsville area. Darren has held his current position for 8 years, moving to that position from various Safety and Emergency roles across the Mount Isa Mines site. Darren has over 20 years in the mining industry, having worked in both field and management positions.