Successful base metal mining and exploration company Perilya has put the spotlight on driver fatigue at its iconic zinc, lead and silver mine in Broken Hill, far western New South Wales, with some intriguing results.

Leading the way with fatigue management has been a major goal for Perilya. 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 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,” says Perilya’s safety & emergency services superintendent Tony Edwards. “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 Edwards and his team to quantitatively measure what their driver was feeling in real time, and consequently reduce the risk to the driver and others in the workplace.

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 was also comprised of 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 4am, 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,” Tony Edwards says.

“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.”

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