Perilya explores driver fatigue


Leading the way with fatigue management has been a major goal for Perilya, an Australian base metals mining and exploration company operating the iconic zinc, lead and silver mine in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

After some trial and error using systems that didn’t reflect the experience of mining operations, the company came across OPTALERT. Now two months into a three month trial, some interesting results have emerged.

The trial, which involved some 12 drivers, has allowed Perilya to gather hard data to indicate that their drivers are not suffering from fatigue and their roster was suitable.

“The feedback from the drivers has been very positive towards the technology,” said Tony Edwards, Perilya Safety & Emergency Services Superintendent. “Interestingly we find the drivers regularly discussing how many alarms they have had and comparing experiences after their shift. They use terms like ‘operating in the green’ with each other. Overall they are just more aware of their behaviour in the cab and of their fatigue levels.”

The OPTALERT Fatigue Risk Profiler system is the only real-time driver safety system in the world that detects the early onset of drowsiness during a journey by accurately measuring a person’s level of alertness.

OPTALERT technology works through tiny invisible light emitters and receivers built into the frame of the patented OPTALERT Driving Glasses, measuring the velocity of the driver’s eyelid 500 times per second. An alarm is sounded up to 30 minutes prior to sleepiness characteristics setting in.

The technology is a culmination of more than 15 years of research into the physiology of drowsiness by OPTALERT founder and Chief Scientist Dr Murray Johns, whose system has allowed a next generation approach to the very human problem of fatigue control.

Rather than merely providing Perilya managers with written reports analysing the historical alertness level of drivers, OPTALERT allows Tony and his team to quantitatively measure what their driver was feeling in real time, and con

“The system gives drivers information about their levels of alertness; well in advance of drowsiness actually taking effect,” added Tony. “The reading fluctuates through the course of the shift and is displayed on the dash board as a 0 to 10 score. This score is then reported to the office.”

Tony added that one particular driver, who had two moderate alarms in one night, immediately called his manager to talk it over.

“This is exactly the sort of thing we were hoping to achieve. We knew our guys were good at what they did but we wanted to open the lines of communication and talk openly about safe driving and fatigue. They are very conscious of their OPTALERT number and are talking about fatigue more than ever.”

Perilya used a wide cross section of the driving team in the trial, with ages ranging between 20 and 50 and a mix of male and female participants. The group also comprised drivers who had damaged equipment and some who had not.

Since the installation of OPTALERT, Perilya say they have had no damage to their trucks driven by drivers in the trial.

Regardless of the driver safety training that all mining companies implement and the solid fatigue procedures that are in place, Perilya understands that there comes a point in everyone’s shift when they ‘hit the wall’. OPTALERT results show this to be at about 4.00am, where readings indicate a slight rise in fatigue across the trial group.

“This pattern has allowed us to look closely at break times, yet the great news is they are never going into the red zone. I think that is a direct result of drivers being more conscious of what their bodies tell them. They may feel tired but they don’t get to fatigue as OPTALERT won’t let them.”

The OPTALERT program is part of a wider safety push at the mine. The Perilya team have put in a focused effort to significantly drop their All Injury Frequency Rate, from 95 injuries per million man hours worked three years ago, down to 12 injuries per million man-hours worked.

This significant achievement follows the company’s investment in various personal risk tools and OPTALERT complements these initiatives.

“We are typical of many mines, we operate large equipment in small spaces and whenever you have a 60 tonne machine in a 5m x 5m space there are real hazards. For us, safety success is all about managing that danger.

“Well-being and health monitoring is a big part of our strategy as a company. Fatigue management forms part of this initiative,” said Tony. “Our main aim for using the OPTALERT technology is to look after our people. The financial gains will be realised as more time goes on, but at the end of the day if we look after our people, they will look after the business.

And with 400 direct employees and 120 contractors on site, looking after their people is no small task.

“The next step for Perilya is to work with OPTALERT on creating a mobile device that will enable the technology to monitor fatigue in a wider range of occupations such as service personnel, mill operators, remote control operators and security staff,” he said.

Tony has been at the Broken Hill site for 34 years (nine and a half years of which has been under Perilya) and says the industry has come a long way in that time.

“The biggest change in my career has been the safety shift, but the whole industry has learnt the hard way. We have gone from the days of very labour intensive mining with real backbreaking work – to being highly mechanised. Back in the old days there were 5,500 people on the line at Broken Hill. Now we are down to one eighth of that.

“It is getting harder to recruit skilled labour and it is a significant effort to train people who are new to the industry. It makes good sense to do the right thing to retain our people and that is why we want zero injuries to keep them safe at work. We want to be an employer of choice and we want to have for a long, productive and safe relationship with our people.”

“In order to do that we use the best technology that is available to us today to improve our safety performance and it looks like OPTALERT will form a part of that moving forward,” said Tony.

For more information, please contact: John Prendergast, Chief Executive Officer, OPTALERT Pty Ltd Telephone 03 9425 5000

High resolution photos are available by emailing Ana Kolembus at [email protected]