Imagine an automated safety solution that not only helps keep workers out of harm’s way but also alerts their employers to potentially hazardous behaviour, and can even assist with the identification of undiagnosed sleep issues. 

That might sound like something out of the realms of science fiction but it’s technology being readily employed at mine sites across WA, including Premier Coal’s operations in Collie. 

Premier introduced the Guardvant system to on-site machinery last year in recognition of the problems posed by fatigue during night and 12-hour shifts. 

As health and safety advisor Jamie Wood explains, the premise is simple but the soft and hardware is complex. 

“A camera sits on the dash continually looking at the operator and that camera has its own algorithms,” Wood said. 

“It looks for set points of eye moment, head movement and general body movement throughout the whole shift and then has set points for different triggers. 

“For things like eye closure and distraction events, or if the operator is looking away for a period of times, it will send them an alert to wake them up or to remind them to look forward.” 

All the Premier Coal machinery has now been fitted with the Guardvant technology.

That alert comes in the shape of a forceful vibration of the driver’s seat but what happens in the background is equally important. 

All Guardvant data is monitored in real time at the company’s headquarters in Arizona. Incidents are assessed in terms of their severity and for repeated patterns of behaviour, with resulting reports giving the Premier health and safety team the context and details they need to address any long-term issues. 

In one case so far this has led to a Premier employee being diagnosed with a previously undiagnosed sleep disorder. 

“Guardvant gives you a lot of data on fatigue and also the time of day and day of week when it’s present,” Wood said. 

“Distractions are also broken down into operational types of distraction or personal distractions. Operational distractions can involve modular screens and people taking their eyes off the task, so there’s an opportunity to streamline things like that. 

“The main thing is the time of the day and shift crews but it does also help identify if people may be having sleep issues that the company can help them with.” 

Trucks at work at Premier Coal’s Collie mine.

Wood said a staged introduction of Guardvant had quickly demonstrated how valuable the software would be. 

“We ran it for a week in the background without sending alerts and had a quite high number of fatigue events recorded,” he explained. 

“When it went live and operators started getting alerts and having their seats vibrate, there was a significant drop-off in the number of fatigue events. 

“When we get events where operators are getting woken up because they are fatigued, it also alerts their supervisor to go out and have a talk, see if they are OK and get them to have a bit of a stretch and a coffee.”  

It’s a testament to Premier’s ability to think outside the box that they managed to get Guardvant up and running in 2020. 

Installation was originally set for September, which posed complications as Hexagon, the Australian installer for the product, was based in Brisbane and its staff were unlikely to be able to enter WA because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

The eventual solution involved engaging Bunbury-based Earth 2 Ocean to undertake the installation, with the assistance of a remote live camera that enabled the Hexagon team to see exactly what was going on. 

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Premier was able to send Guardvant live in early October.