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Wearables wanted to help mine workers stay hydrated

Steve Rogerson
May 21, 2109

The Telfer gold and copper mines in Western Australia are offering $10,000 in a competition to find wearable technology that will monitor worker hydration levels and reduce toilet breaks.
Outside temperatures often exceed 40˚C with maximum temperatures in excess of 50˚C. Working shifts of 12 hours, maintaining hydration is critical to personal safety. Dehydration can impact cognitive functions and decrease decision-making abilities and at later stages lead to serious health issues. It is therefore important for mine owner Newcrest to ensure that all site personnel maintain adequate hydration levels to ensure a safe working environment.
Hydration urine test strips are available in toilets and regularly used for self-testing, however, an inherent problem with this arrangement is the requirement for a toilet in which the testing can occur. This makes it necessary for the person who requires a test to leave the job site to carry out the test, hence people do not test as often as the company would like.
Tests are conducted under the guidance of supervisors and HSE specialists on site to monitor hydration levels. The urine testing method currently used gives a reading that can sometimes be open to interpretation, that is the colours that the strips change to on the different pads are similar.
Portable electronic refractometers for urine testing have been trialled, but these are also problematic as the tester is required to urinate into a small cup and then the sample is tested from the cup, therefore a toilet is still required.
A recent random urine hydration test, which sampled 30% of the 500 shutdown workers in the morning prior to the day shift, found that three per cent were dehydrated and needed to be stood down from work or further medical intervention. Up to one-third of all workers didn't start the day with adequate hydration levels.
Most testing is carried out at the start of shift to assist with staying hydrated throughout the day. If personnel test in the afternoon and discover they are dehydrated, it is often impossible to return to a hydrated state before the end of shift. If morning testing occurs, the personnel can increase there water intake to bring up their hydration levels.
The company is thus looking for ways to help personnel on site stay hydrated or improve how it monitors hydration levels. It wants to address all or some of these criteria: 

  • Let workers self-monitor hydration levels
  • Warning or notification system to individuals to enable them to take corrective actions.
  • No to low disruption to regular tasks.
  • Capture and aggregate data across the site to identify trends.
  • Produce hydration readings rapidly when an incident occurs to eliminate dehydration and poor decision making as a factor.
  • Recognise and address on-site conditions in that wearables must be comfortable for long durations, sweat and dust resistant; consumables must last in high heat with long distance to toilets.
  • Have a system that gives a clear indication of hydrated or dehydrated without room for interpretation.
The company is thus calling for submissions by May 28 to address these needs.
The mines in the Great Sandy Desert in the East Pilbara region of Western Australia are 100 per cent owned by Newcrest. Telfer is 400km east-south-east of Port Hedland and approximately 1300km by air or 1900km by road from Perth. The workforce differs significantly during normal operation, compared with the three shutdown periods per year, during which an additional 500 contractors arrive to carry out maintenance work.