WA launch world first autonomous mining safety codes

Western Australia has launched the world’s first code of practice for safe autonomous mining.

The code was approved earlier this week by WA mining minister Bill Marmion, and will now be gazetted.

It was developed by a working group of WA and international mining automation experts, and was initiated as autonomous mining systems are not specifically covered in the Mine Safety and Inspection Act 1994 and its associated regulations.

DMP director of mines safety Andrew Chaplyn said the International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO) technical committee on mobile autonomous mining systems met in Perth last year to build the foundations of the code.

"The forum provided DMP an opportunity to hear from international experts and share our collective knowledge about safety in autonomous mining and this code of practice was a key part of those discussions,” he said.

The implementation of the code comes after a serious collision event at BHP’s Jimblebar iron ore mine last year.

According to the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum, the control room operator had programmed the autonomous haul truck to turn right at a pre-defined intersection and carry out a loop so it could be repositioned underneath an excavator on the pit floor. 

While the intersection and loop existed in the control system, it was not physically signposted or marked on the ground to notify worker operated vehicles. 

"A manned water cart was travelling in the opposite direction when the autonomous truck was about to turn right, the water cart driver was not aware of the autonomous truck's pre-assigned path and – on recognising it – tried to take evasive action," the DMP report states. 

"On detecting the water cart in its assigned path of travel, the autonomous truck's speed (about 40 kilometres per hour) and response time meant it could not prevent the collision. 

"The two vehicles collided, resulting in significant damage to the autonomous truck; the water cart driver received minor injuries." 

It went on to state that change management processes for planning and assigning roads in the control system were inadequate, and that while an awareness system had been installed in the water cart to allow drivers to monitor autonomous trucks' paths at the time of the collision the water cart driver was not aware of the intended actions of the autonomous truck. 

The new, safer code of practice reportedly took 18 months develop and “will help companies safely introduce and manage autonomous mobile mining systems in their operations,” the DMP said.

“Western Australia is at the forefront in the use of this technology, so it makes sense that we also play a leading role in developing safety guidance,” Marmion added.

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