The Chilean mining accident that captured the attention of the world late in 2010 also provides a relevant story for how, through the use of technology, safety efforts can be enhanced in multiple industries, including construction. In particular, technology for remote monitoring could prove to be beneficial for contractors working under extreme and harsh conditions.

Codelco, the Chilean mining company in charge of the rescue efforts, found the use of an Ethernet switch, of all things, to be very useful in aiding communications efforts with those trapped roughly 2,300 feet underground. According to a case study published in Connected World magazine, after the mining operation completed the digging of the main rescue shaft, it needed a way to ensure the rescue pod would safely transport the miners. By networking the Ethernet switches with a video camera, authorities were able to use video transmission to inspect the rock structure of the tunnel walls to determine what would happen during transport.

The industrial switch, mounted on a rescue pod, was networked with a video camera for surveillance, giving Codelco the necessary Ethernet connectivity between the camera, video encoder, and the rest of the world. Data was transmitted along a copper connection to the top of the shaft, which is where the remote monitoring capabilities come into play.

The company that provided the Ethernet switch was Sixnet, www.sixnet.com, Ballston Lake, N.Y. Scott Rose, manager, technical account team, Sixnet, believes this was the only real option, given the fact things like radio signals would require point-to-point communication and Wi-Fi or cellular would have been inhibited by the metal cage.

As Rose states, efforts associated with the Chilean rescue may be an indication that mining operations should start evaluating their use of technology. In particular, updating safety systems and monitoring systems could be life saver. It’s a lesson that can be also applied to workers in harsh construction environments as well.