Newcrest Mining has partnered with Australian startup community Unearthed to find a solution to worker hydration and hydration monitoring at the miner’s Telfer gold-copper mines in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The companies will run a competition dubbed ‘Stay hydrated: improving hydration monitoring at Telfer,’ where entrepreneurs and startups will compete for up to A$10,000 in investment to develop their solutions to dehydration at the desert operations. The competition is also part of Newcrest’s Crowd programme, which funds and backs innovative solutions to problems in the mining industry and will accept submissions until 28 May.

Random urine testing at the mines, which sampled 30% of the 500 workers stationed at the sites at the time, found that 3% were dehydrated and needed to be suspended from work or given further medical aid. Up to a third of the workers tested started their day’s work without what Unearthed called “adequate hydration levels.”

“Outside temperatures often exceed 40°C with maximum temperatures in excess of 50°C,” said Newcrest, describing the health risks of dehydration at the mines. “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.”

The programme aims to address existing difficulties with monitoring worker hydration, which often involve applying urine samples to test strips that change colour to indicate the water content of the urine. This process is highly subjective, as the colours can be interpreted differently by different workers, making the tests imprecise and adding variation to results.

The companies reported that they had trialled portable refractometers to test urine samples, removing the subjective element of test strip trials. But this solution did not eliminate the need for the construction of infrastructure such as toilets, nor remove the potential for testing to disrupt work shifts, as workers have to take the time out of their days to provide urine samples.

Applications will be judged on three criteria: how effectively they fill the need for non-invasive and accurate hydration monitoring, how ready the product is to be rolled out and how effectively the solution will work with existing company infrastructure. Three winners will be selected, and awarded with A$6,000, A$3,000 and A$1,000 respectively to develop their solutions, and be mentored by Troy Reynolds, Newcrest’s senior safety adviser.