Footprints in red dirt

Managing occupational exposures through real-time monitoring

Real-time monitoring (RTM) of particulate matter in the occupational setting is providing rapid and timely data to help protect our workers. 

With RTM devices being progressively deployed across our operated assets, combined with the development of a BHP data platform/dashboard, RTM is supporting proactive management of occupational exposure risks, with greater data availability helping to inform risk-based decisions, while workers continue their vital work. 

Air emissions generated during the mining process can pose a relevant threat to the health of our workers with excess exposure to particulate matter potentially resulting in the development of long latency diseases, such as lung cancer and silicosis.   

Our existing occupational hygiene processes and mandatory minimum performance requirements for risk management are designed to identify, assess and manage these risks with consideration of exposure data against our Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs). We set these OELs in accordance with applicable regulatory requirements or, in some instances, we set lower limits than the regulations require based on the latest scientific evidence. However, we have identified that real-time monitoring capability can assist with improving the reduction of our workers’ exposure in practice.  

RTM generated data can instantly verify emission control effectiveness, pin-point specific particulate emission sources and activities, rapidly identify unexpected emissions and provide early warning of the need for preventative maintenance. The real-time data can also be analysed and accessed across a range of mobile devices and has the capability to issue automatic alerts and alarms to further protect workers.  

With Broadmeadow coal mine in Queensland, Australia being one of the first BHP mines to pilot new RTM devices and data platforms, this technology has since been introduced at various sites globally, including Western Australia Iron Ore’s Port Hedland Rail, at Olympic Dam in South Australia and at our Escondida operations in Chile. 

In Escondida’s truck shop, the level of diesel particulate matter had been monitored through traditional hygiene monitoring campaigns. The results of these campaigns are made available (following laboratory analysis) five to 10 days after samples are received. The campaigns were not designed to allow for real-time data to be collected or provide continuous verification of the effectiveness of controls in place to reduce diesel particulate matter. Following the installation of real-time monitors for diesel particulate matter, there was an event that indicated higher than acceptable levels of exposure to workers. This data enabled immediate changes in work tasks to manage personal exposures and development of short, medium and long term plans to monitor and improve effectiveness of controls. 

RTM is also expected to deliver efficiency gains due to faster turnaround times and exponential sampling capability. Insights from forecasting tools could also reduce potential production disruptions by providing risk owners with greater data to support preemptive management of exposure risks. 

The deployment and integration of RTM into our operations’ hygiene programs and critical control management demonstrates an effective implementation of real-time monitoring in our industry. We continue to embed RTM in our emission identification and control systems and are now facilitating cross-industry learnings and partnerships with device manufacturers.