By Jacques Farmer
The mining industry mandates specific training across a variety of areas depending on the employee’s job description. Learning ‘on the job’ can be both hazardous and costly, but practical experience is a requisite for using mining machinery and tools, as is ongoing learning. In a time where people are required by law to maintain a certain distance from each other, such practice is difficult to provide in person. This is where simulation training comes in. Using a combination of various simulation technologies, including virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) allows training to take place in a safe space, without the risk of infection and harm to people or damage to equipment. It also means that the trainer doesn’t have to be in close proximity with the delegates.
Danger at every turn
Mining is one of the most hazardous sectors, and it is essential to maintain the highest safety standards. This includes ensuring that all machine operators are competent to perform their duties. The challenge is to enable them to gain sufficient skills to become competent, because practicing on real, live machinery is a danger. There are so many things that could potentially go wrong and cause catastrophic damage, injury and fatalities. The equipment is also extremely costly, and damage will be expensive to repair.
To mitigate the risk to a certain degree, the instructor usually sits in the cab of the machinery with the trainee. However, with Covid-19 protocols still in place requiring 1.5m social distancing, this has become impossible. A realistic, well-designed simulator that has been calibrated to mimic the real conditions of the mine can provide a safe way for operators to ‘get the feel’ for the equipment without any of the risk. It can also be overseen by a trainer in a remote location, anywhere in the world, so training can be delivered by expert providers while maintaining social distance.
In addition to allowing employees to gain their experience hours without risk, simulation training enables mining organisations to monitor and measure the performance of the employee while they are training and over time. This data can be used to identify any potential challenges, analyse trends and gain a solid picture of the skills and confidence levels of the employee. Skills that are lacking can be emphasised and ongoing improvement assured. Monitoring can also alert mines to potential problems with the performance of the machinery itself and trends on this performance over time.
Simulation training ensures reduced downtime, increased productivity and enhanced mine safety, all of which is directly measurable. The key, however, is to ensure that it is a fully integrated component of the overall training program. The curriculum should be designed to be operations-related and specific to the individual mine – there is no generic ‘off the shelf’ solution that will fit every mine, as they are all unique in their environments, methods of operation and challenges.
With a realistic simulation, potential machine operators can test their skills and see if they are suited for the tasks required. For example, fear of heights and nausea are common issues when some people attempt to operate certain equipment. Simulation will identify these challenges before significant investment is made into training an employee who will not be able to perform their job.
Simulations provide a realistic experience that gives the same feeling of operating equipment, including any dangers. It also gives a realistic experience of what might happen if the wrong decision is made, which in turn improves safety. It also enables employees to gain more experience training, without taking actual working equipment out of commission, which enhances productivity, and without burning additional fuel or causing wear and tear to equipment.
Partners in success
There is a lot of technology around simulation, but mines need to ensure that the simulation concept is customised to fit their specific needs. Simulation training should complement theory and classroom-based training to address knowledge gaps and learning paths and training methodologies need to be tailored to fit the target audience. This enables mines to be more effective and more productive, while improving safety and reducing downtime.
The bottom line is that a simulator must be realistic and specific. If it is not, or if it is improperly implemented, mines will not see a return on investment. However, if it is effectively designed, and mines work with an experienced training partner to integrate it into training and design the curriculum effectively, it can quite literally be a life saver.
Jacques Farmer is Managing Director of PRISMA Training Solutions, a member of the Workforce Training and Consulting Group