access control mining

Although illegal mining is more prevalent at abandoned mine shafts and near-surface mines, Graham Briggs, CEO of South African mine Harmony Gold says that it is not uncommon for underground mines to struggle with trespassers who illegally enter mining premises with the intent of extracting minerals or mineral bearing material. The risk, he points out, is threefold:


Illegal mining activities holds a significant safety risk for mining operations, posing a threat to the health and safety of both illegal miners’ and the safety of employees.  In October 2014 Harmony Gold had to step up their response to illegal mining at their Kusasalethu mine following the outbreak of a fire, the third of its nature, believed to be caused by illegal miners. Surveillance mechanisms that were in place alerted management to the fire and allowed safe evacuation of all employees, but management is adamant to respond to the cause of the matter to prevent future incidents, “illegal mining is a threat to employees’ safety and health and to the mine’s continued viability”.

Productivity & Sustainability

Apart from the health and safety hazards involved incidents such as these have a detrimental effect on productivity and profits, and consequently the sustainability of operations which affects the livelihood of millions of mine workers.

Damage of property and mining equipment as well as the theft of ore all translate to the erosion of profit margins. In addition operations are often disrupted and productivity lost as mining operations have to come to a standstill to remove illegal miners from hazardous areas. In the case of Harmony’s Kusasalethu shaft management had to close the mine and send employees on leave for a two week period in order to remove illegal miners and upgrade security and access control systems. Graham Briggs explained, “the risk of yet another underground fire is a risk that we are not prepared to take and therefore we are reverting to this temporary mine closure.”

Environmental Perspective

No less alarming than lost productivity and risk to employee safety and job security, illegal miners’ neglect of environmentally prudent practices can cause pollution, underground fires and depleted mineral deposits. The use of crude methodologies to extract and process ore causes uncontrolled damage, threatening both the mining infrastructure as well as environmental stability.

Three categories of Access Control Systems

Mining houses are tackling the risks associated with illegal mining with a combination of technologies and methodologies, and access control systems form the backbone of preventative measures.

Best in class access control technology is digital and communicates data in real-time, which allows field devices to provide information back to a command centre to be entered into an appropriate workflow that ensures rapid and informed response by officials.

Today, the focus has moved to modular network systems that integrate various applications such as lamp room and access control, the monitoring of assets such as machinery and trucks and also lost persons detection. Jordan Cullis explains the three main categories of technology that are being used for these integrated solutions:

1. IP-based access control solutions

IP-based solutions seamlessly integrate with other sub-systems for monitoring and response allowing the administrator to perform commands such as tracking, changing access card data, managing access authority, tracking staff and visitor flow and controlling access to remote areas.

Security managers can pre-set alarm messages and commands (such as unlocking of emergency doors for evacuation) to be automatically delivered and executed when specific emergency incidents occur.

2. Contactless smart card technology

Contactless smart card solutions offer single, dual or three-factor authentication which enables companies to customize security levels for each individual area:

  • Single authentication: the card on its own allows access to a system or an entrance.
  • Dual authentication: in addition to presentation of a valid smart card the user will have to provide a PIN (personal identification number) for authorization.
  • Three-factor authentication: on top of previous authorization measures an extra layer of authentication, such as a biometric scan, is required.

Apart from its access control function smart cards have data storing capabilities which can be utilized for storing worker’s training records in order to sync physical access rights with competency levels, and also lends itself to equipment vending systems.

3. Wireless access control readers

Wireless network technology enables readers at access points to provide access by communicating with active tags worn by miners. The same network system can be adopted to create wireless zones that connects active tags with a master controller throughout the operation, allowing access control of any area of the mine as well as lost persons detection in real-time. Although there are only a few industrial communications service providers worldwide who have managed to successfully implement wireless access control across large underground operations, demand is growing as mining operations are acknowledging the value of wireless Ethernet networks as a single solution to mobile voice communication, text messaging, alarm systems, lamp room and access control, asset monitoring and lost persons detection.

wireless access control 

Multiple benefits of access control systems

Security equipment such as access control systems is no longer being used exclusively for security purposes as mining houses are recognizing the value of the data derived from such systems for the purpose of improving production figures.

Ian Downie, sales and marketing director at Xone Integrated Security believes that “by implementing smart technology, driven by the suitable level of trained and knowledgeable employees, according to a defined process, every facet of the mining operation can achieve improvements such as enhanced safety and productivity, minimised losses and improved return on investment.”


PS. Would you like to know more about real-time network solutions for access control, asset monitoring and lost persons detection in surface and deep shaft mining? Download your FREE copy of our eBook on mine safety technology by clicking on the image below.

Underground Mine Safety