How to ensure employee safety during tunnel boring operations

May 14, 2018 8:29:00 AM

A tunnel boring machine used for construction of a subway station

As the populace grows, public transport becomes more cluttered and road networks experience more congestion.

As a result, new transportation networks need to be made as quickly as possible – but in the rush, it’s important to remember that safety is the first and foremost concern, both in the sense of creating safe networks for drivers and passengers, and when it comes to the safety of operators during the project.

Crossrail – known as the Elizabeth line – is one of these infrastructure developments.

Construction began on Crossrail – Europe’s largest infrastructure project – back in 2009 and it is due to open in 2018.

It is thought Crossrail will improve London’s rail capacity by 10% and it has been designed to ease congestion, providing a new railway for London and the south east, providing easier, quicker and more direct travel opportunities across the capital.

The construction of this project has been an immense challenge, and for nearly 10 years, eight 7.1-metre (23-foot) diameter tunnel-boring machines (TBM) have operated 24/7, drilling holes beneath the surface at a rate of 100 metres a week – a small distance for such massive machines – and operated by a team of 20 people.

Tunnel-boring machines operating mostly day and night for this long however, requires comprehensive safety mechanisms and, while Crossrail represents the highest of safety standards in its tunnel-boring operation, some operations around the world have not.

So, what can mining and tunnelling operations around the world do to ensure their operatives and TBM machines are safe throughout activities and long-term mining projects?

Technology is beginning to play a huge role in enabling employers to increase  worker safety in hazardous industries. Find out more here.


Machine monitoring to ensure efficiency and safety

Protecting the TBM and personnel during the length of any mining project is essential and better technology means monitoring the efficiency of machinery and flagging potential issues before they escalate is becoming much easier.

Comprehensive, accurate and real-time safety and condition monitoring improves the safety of workers by ensuring machinery is operating at maximum efficiency and protects against the prospect of catastrophic failure by alerting of machine problems as soon as possible.

Protecting equipment and ensuring it is working efficiently at all times will help to streamline tunnelling and mining projects, ensuring unwanted delays are limited as much as possible and helping projects to progress as quickly, and safely as possible.


Adapting to changing risks

The type and severity of health and safety risks associated with tunnelling projects inevitably change during each stage of the development, and in reaction to any unforeseen issues. The scale and complexity of mining or tunnelling projects presents consistent risks which need to be monitored and tackled, while the work exposure hours of those working on the project also needs to be dealt with.

Accurate and real-time data analysis, displaying information to local or remote supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems can help to ensure that safety is always at the forefront of any project, while this information can also be used to predict any safety concerns that could arise by monitoring the changing environment.

For example, ground loss and surface settlements due to tunnelling can cause distress to surface structures like splitting stone work, fracturing foundations and potential risk to long term structural degrading.

Again, this is where monitoring systems with real time data and environment evaluation capabilities can help to alert operatives to potential problems and ensure the safety of workers, and maintaining the integrity of the machinery.

Ultimately, increasingly advanced technology is constantly improving the safety of mining and tunnelling operations while the increasing need for better transport links across the country means tunnelling projects could become more common heading into the future. By making best use of the latest technology, tunnelling and mining operations can become much safer while vastly improving efficiency at the same time.

With AI-based technologies controlling mining and industrial processes, operator safety becomes all-encompassing and potential incidents or threats arising from poor conditions or equipment degradation can be identified far in advance – or even before the possibility arises! 

Will connected technology change the future of safety in industrial operations?


AI-based technologies combined with IoT devices will, in the future, deliver all-encompassing security that is not only responsive in real-time but also preventative. Download our eBook to learn more about how these connected technologies work: 



Written by Trolex News