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Virtual world is the safest for miners

A simulated mining environment, used to train prospective miners.

A simulated mining environment, used to train prospective miners.
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Friday, 1 August 2008

Mining in South Australia is set to become a whole lot safer, thanks to the world of virtual reality and video games.

A $430,000 collaborative project involving the University of Adelaide will use simulators to train prospective miners in one of the world's most hazardous environments.

Associate Professor Anton van den Hengel, Director of the University's Australian Centre for Visual Technologies, is partnering with the University of NSW, as well as TAFE SA and the South Australian mining industry to induct staff at BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam mining site.

The simulators - reflecting genuine hazards - will specifically concentrate on training miners working at heights, where ladders, scaffolds and elevated work platforms are extensively used.

Dr van den Hengel says the project will allow BHP Billiton to train people in a safe and cost-effective manner.

"Virtual reality simulation and computer gaming are powerful tools for conditioning human behaviour," he says. "Both technologies enable users to experience a range of situations that would otherwise be impossible, or prohibitively dangerous or expensive."

Since 2003, there have been more than 80 fatalities in the mining and construction industry in Australia, involving people working at height.

"With mining activity in South Australia expected to escalate in coming years, it is crucial we make the environment safer for workers and protect the industry from massive OH&S penalties. The interactive nature of the simulations immerses trainees in real-life situations in the mining environment, without endangering themselves or others, and without impeding the operations," Dr van den Hengel says.

He says the research project offers an opportunity to develop a virtual reality simulator model for the South Australian mining and construction industry.

"If we can refine this cutting-edge technology it will help attract workers to the minerals industry, equip them with the right skills and encourage them to take further training when the need arises."

Dr van den Hengel will work alongside Dr Philip Stothard from the University of NSW to develop the simulation training which is expected to be in use by March 2009.

Both universities have extensive experience in virtual reality, which has already proven its worth as an induction and training tool in other industries, but this will be the first time it has been applied to mining in South Australia.

Mining companies Skills DMC and the Resources and Engineering Skills Alliance are also involved in the project.

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