Have biometrics changed the way mines operate?

Issue 5 2022 Mining (Industry), Access Control & Identity Management

Underground mining is an important industry in South Africa and has, since its inception, been a cornerstone of South Africa’s economy, but it can be a hazardous workplace. The changes which have come about in our country make it necessary to prepare the industry for the challenges which are facing all South Africans in the twenty-first century.

The mining industry continues to improve conditions for mine workers, striving for zero harm, however, innovations which improve worker safety and increase operational efficiency are still needed.

A safe and productive working environment is critical for any operation in the mining sector. Various technology and security companies provide solutions to meet these company’s specific needs to ensure that people, equipment and assets are safe. Biometric identification and authentication are currently being utilised at various mines in South Africa and in the SADC region.

Fingerprint biometrics are still the most widely accepted form of biometrics. However, more mines and large industries are looking at newer technologies, hence facial recognition technology is also becoming more popular in the mining industry.

Currently, what one tends to see within the mining industry is finger vein detection. These devices detect the pattern of the blood vessel under the skin simultaneously with a fingerprint match. This technology offers an unrivalled, secure form of identification, and since these devices detect wet and rough fingers, more mines were seen to be installing them. Another technology is 3D facial recognition, which provides hands-free recognition ideal for the mining industry. This technology has indeed made waves within the industry; entering or exiting a mineshaft is simple, secure and quick.

Through biometric technology, mining companies have better control over short-time and over-time hours worked at access points where shift control procedures are executed. Access control systems can be upgraded to meet one of the most important mining safety requirements, the ‘shaft clear for blasting’ procedure, by automatically and electronically providing assurance that all personnel have left the area to be blasted.

Fingerprint readers can readily be linked to systems including everything from payroll systems to what meal choices staff may make, or what certified skills they have, when they are due for leave and even when they are next due for a medical checkup. In the latter case, a miner, for example, won’t be allowed underground if his checkup is overdue.

In addition, the technology can improve risk management and ensure compliance with mining safety regulations through the implementation of a management and control system for monitoring and enforcing safety issues relating to personnel working underground, such as lamp issues as well as red ticket and competency certificates. Tracking the location and number of people underground can be tricky, and is crucial considering the underground working conditions. Unfortunately, traditional technologies such as GPS and Wi-Fi tracking do not work well, or even at all in many situations. New technologies are therefore needed to overcome the limitation or failure of common location tracking devices in these environments.


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