Human Factors, Safe Design, New Technologies and Transport Safety

Human Factors, Safe Design, New Technologies and Transport Safety



The increasing appreciation of the importance of the human element in the worldwide minerals industry is partly due to our recent work. Since 2007, our task at the Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre (MISHC) at the University of Queensland has been to create and apply human factors knowledge in mining and transport, so producing operator-centred approaches to improve safety and work performance. 

In addition to our substantial industry engagement and practical contributions, we have published our work extensively: this has included 33 peer-reviewed papers in 2010-2012 for Horberry, and his two recent books ‘Understanding Human Error in Mine Safety’ and ‘Human Factors for the Design, Operation and Maintenance of Mining Equipment’ were the first written about mining human factors for over 20 years. We regularly collaborate with the best research groups internationally, such as the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (USA), the University of Granada (Spain) and the University of Cambridge (UK).

Safety in Design for mining/industrial equipment.

Making mining equipment safer and more operator-friendly is one of our key research interests. We developed the ‘OMAT’ tool that is being used by both mine sites (to assess existing equipment) and manufacturers (to help design safe equipment). In addition to the journal articles and books we have written, and the academic presentations we have given on this topic, we have been in great international demand in this area both from major equipment manufacturers (such as Caterpillar, USA and Joy Global) and mining companies (eg Newmont Gold). Our research impact is demonstrated by these manufacturers and global mining companies now using our ‘OMAT’ tool. 

With the successful EC Marie Curie-funded visiting Fellowship Horberry obtained with Cambridge University (UK), he has recently been able to extend his international research concerning safe equipment design to other occupational domains, and also to consider ‘wider’ safe design of work systems and new technologies. His ongoing work includes: 

  • Medical device safety (with Addenbrooke’s Hospital, UK). His safe design work has focused on the issue of surgical equipment retained in a patient after surgery.
  • Safe design of mobile construction equipment. Working with a construction equipment manufacturer, we are applying a modified version of our ‘OMAT’ process to the equipment.

Human Factors issues with the deployment of new technologies 

Deploying safe and efficient new technologies into high-hazard workplaces such as mining and manufacturing is our second key area of research. Achieving better design and integration of these new technologies by ensuring that they serve both operator needs and the actual demands of the workplace is the main objective. 

New technologies are being widely used in many hazardous workplaces: these technologies include collision alerting systems or operator fatigue detection devices. The overall vision for this research program is for high-hazard workplaces to become safer and more productive by means of effective user-centred design and deployment of new technologies. 

In the recent past, we have conducted research of this kind for the mining, manufacturing and transportation (airport ramp safety) domains. We have conducted domestic and international research here for the Australian Airports Authority and the UK Department for Transport. We have published this work in leading journals such as Applied Ergonomics and there have been many practical benefits for the companies who introduced such technologies (eg less ‘critical incidents’ involving forklift trucks following the introduction of a speed limiting system in manufacturing). 

Currently, we are undertaking new technologies research as a CI for a multi-million dollar mining automation project for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and a shovel load assist technology project for CRCMining. In both of these, we are ensuring that any technologies developed are user-centred, follow best ergonomics design practice and are deployed effectively. We have presented this ongoing work nationally and internationally, and published it in leading international journals. The book that Horberry is currently finishing (operator acceptance of new technology) with two collaborators from Sydney and the UK will be a major new addition to this research field: it will be the first research book to examine how new technologies can be effectively designed and deployed to optimise operator acceptance. 

Transport Safety 

The human operator is a major component in a safe transport system, so extending our work from mining to the wider minerals transportation system has been a logical move. Over the years, we have conducted many transport safety projects, these include: 

  • Road safety (with the University of Granada, Spain). Building on our existing links with this Spanish centre, ongoing work is exploring the development of psychological road safety audits to aid safe road design.
  • Community Road Safety. Best practice for mining/industrial organisations (for QGC).
  • Rail safety. Fatigue detection technologies, black boxes in train cabs and Signals Passed at Danger (SPaDs)

Key People