Nevada Mine Using New Technology to Monitor Sleepy Drivers
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IN BRIEF: A Nevada mine is using new technology to watch truck drivers' eyes to tell if they're getting sleepy behind the wheel.
Mining, of course, is big business out in rural Nevada. And one of the problems the industry has faced for years is fatigue - drivers who work long shifts hauling materials throughout a mine getting tired behind the wheel.
Haul truck drivers often spend 12 hour shifts transporting materials throughout a mine site in 240-ton trucks. It can be tedious work with long shifts, sometimes overnight. So it's no surprise that drivers can get tired.
But now, a new pilot program - and new technology - is making it easier to tell when a driver is getting tired and possibly prevent accidents. KUNR's Kate McGee takes us to the Newmont Mining facility near Battle Mountain.
There the mine is testing a device called the Driver State Sensor, a small black box placed on the dashboard of a truck. It uses infrared technology to measure the eyelid and facial movements of drivers.
In those instances when a driver's face resembles a state like sleep - so-called micro sleeps - an alarm goes off both in the truck and at the mine's dispatch center. And it takes a picture and sends it back to dispatch. There a worker analyzes it to see if the driver was really getting sleepy or just squinting, for example.
So what happens when the alarm goes off and it's right - a driver is getting tired? Bryce Peterson, who works at the mine's dispatch center, says the first time a driver will just call in and explain what happened. The second alarm, another employee comes and checks on them to see if they can continue. On the third alarm, they'll make the driver walk around and maybe get them some coffee. But should a fourth alarm occur, they pull the driver off the truck.
So how often are drivers getting sleepy behind the wheel? Mine manager Steve Johnson says the pilot program revealed, at first, the number of fatigued haul truck drivers was relatively low - about one or two alarms every 12 hours. But he says the program's helped bring it even lower, to 0.7 alarms per every 12-hour shift.
So with so few alarms, why are mining companies like Newmont investing in this technology?
A new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found nearly 42 percent of miners nationwide get less than six hours of sleep per night. And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsiness causes 30 to 40 percent of heavy vehicle accidents. Steve Johnson says anything to improve safety.
But improved safety does come with a price. According to Bob Wingle with the company Seeing Machines, which makes the sensor, each unit costs around $12,000.
Despite that, Newmont's Phoenix plant is in the process of purchasing cameras for all 18 of the trucks it has on site.