Above ground, we have team members working in some of the world’s most remote locations exploring for new ore bodies. And in deep, underground mines we have hundreds of workers extracting ore. Whether using modern technology or tried-and-true traditional methods, it is critical that we consistently and accurately monitor their location and welfare at all times.
For example, our exploration teams generally work above ground in an “office” environment that can range from dense jungles to frozen tundra. More often than not, they work far away from any type of infrastructure, including land- and wireless-based communications systems.
To stay in contact with our exploration team members in North and South America, Newmont issues a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger to each explorer before they go into the field.
“The devices were invaluable during the earthquake in Haiti in 2010,” says Guy Jackson, Director, Global Health Safety and Loss Prevention Governance (HSLP) at Newmont. “After the earthquake hit, we knew within a couple of hours where our people were and that they were safe. There was no long-term wondering or worrying.”
The SPOT device offers multiple safety options that allow explorers to check in or call company security or local authorities if help is needed. Functions include an SOS button, for life-threatening events or other critical emergencies. Along with Newmont, the GEOS International Emergency Response Center receives transmissions from the devices, and they alert the appropriate worldwide agencies. For non-life threatening emergencies, there is a Help button, which summons national emergency service providers equipped to handle non-life threatening emergencies.
SPOT also has communication functionality. By pressing the Check-in/OK button, explorers can send a pre-programmed email message, along with their GPS location, to up to 10 pre-determined contacts. There’s also a feature that allows them to send a custom message.
Ideally, the tracking feature on SPOT is the only feature Newmont explorers need to use. It allows them to start and stop tracking at any time and to also mark reference points along their route.
In addition to the impressive features of high-tech tracking devices, modern day miners also still rely on an old-school system of tracking.
The “Brass System,” a safety roll-call method developed by underground miners more than 100 years ago, remains in use today. And while it’s not the only method Newmont uses to monitor the location of its miners, it is deemed as one of the most reliable.
Here’s how the system works:
Each underground miner is issued two brass coins or tags with their unique control number stamped on them. Before entering the mine, the miner will “brass in” or hang one coin on the top half of a pegboard indicating that they’ve reported for work and are underground in the mine. The twin coin hangs on the miner’s work belt. At any point during the day, a supervisor can look at the pegboard and know who is working underground. At the end of a shift, the miner will “brass out” by moving his or her coin from the top half of the pegboard to the bottom half. A vacant spot on the pegboard means a worker has not yet brassed out, which could indicate a safety problem.
Guy Jackson describes how the system is used:
“In the event of a mine emergency, all miners are signaled to quickly retreat to the closest underground refuge shelter,” he explains. “Once there, roll call is taken, brass coins are accounted for, and any missing miners are reported to above-ground personnel, who look at the pegboard to determine where the miner was working at the time of the incident. This allows mine rescue workers to know who the missing miner is and to respond more quickly.”
Guy says that while the Brass System is basic, it is also very effective. There is a risk that someone may forget to brass in or brass out, but if the system is used correctly, it can save lives. “Brass in, brass out is a time-honored tradition that miners take seriously because they know it can keep them safe,” says Guy. “As a result, they’re disciplined about following the system.”
Whether new-tech or old-school, location tracking systems are a necessity in the mining industry. And at Newmont, they are one of many measures we’ve taken to ensure the safety of our most valuable assets – our people.