5 Fears of the Modern Mining Professional
Martin Vasilescu, Country Manager Explosives, Davey Bickford Enaex
No industry is altogether free from uncertainty, but mining professionals are challenged with a unique set of concerns. Some of these are related to growing pains of the past. Some are linked to radical projections for the future. The industry itself is composed of organisations, teams, and individuals who feel pressure points in different ways. If we intend to make our industry as productive and efficient as it ought to be, smarter technical decisions are only half the battle. We need to understand our industry from the inside out, beginning with the things that scare us the most.
1. My health and safety will be compromised
Equipment and explosives have grown more sophisticated since the days of dynamite sticks and steam-powered pumps. Some safety risks have been alleviated, but others have surfaced as mining processes have grown bigger and more powerful. Heavy machinery has brought hearing damage and whole-body vibration (WBV) into the mix. Chemical and dust exposure are possible. Injury can still occur – whether from erroneous blasting, improper wall formation, or a mechanical accident.
Advice: Every mining and METS company carries a unique set of safety concerns, and collaboration is the key to elevating best practices around safety. Technical adjustments in areas of acute danger, e.g. making the switch to digital blasting systems, can make a profound difference to safety standards. Expanded definitions of health and safety on the job are also critical.
2. Social license will erode
Mined ore is arguably the underpinning of modern civilisation, but the mining business is not in the habit of winning popularity contests. At a moment when climate change and other environmental issues weigh heavily on the public mind, extracting resources from the earth has a tendency to be auto-filed under unscrupulous activity. Apple (which is in the habit of winning popularity contests) recently announced a commitment to stop using newly-mined minerals to produce phones, although the company doesn’t know how this will be accomplished. All in all, people fear that if social license continues to erode, the industry as a whole will follow suit.
Advice: The alleviation of this fear might entail two things. First, genuine commitments to workplace inclusion, community relationships, and the environment must be shored up. Second, these commitments must be activated and effectively communicated – both within mining and METS companies and to the outside world. The world needs ore, but in order for mining companies to be successful, social license is a vital resource in its own right.
3. Machines will take my job
Automation holds all the promise in the world for investors and chairmen of the board. After all, driverless vehicles and robotic drills don’t need lunch breaks. They don’t take vacations and don’t need benefits. What could be better for the quarterly balance sheet than a fleet of employees who work around the clock and never make mistakes? For professionals who have staked their careers on skilled human labour, this particular vision doesn’t look so welcoming.
Advice: Professionals need good information on how and when particular roles might change as a result of automation. Much of the technology is several years away from the mainstream, and in many cases, upskilling will be possible. It’s up to every mining and METS company to offer guidance to its team members. Roles may change, but the value of committed professionals will be higher than ever. Taking care of people is at the core of a responsible move toward automation.
4. Inefficiencies will be overlooked
It’s one thing to fix glaring inefficiencies; but if the trade journals and conference agendas are correct, many of the elements hampering the performance of our industry lie hidden beneath the surface. Predictive maintenance solutions have materialised as the costs of conventional maintenance become clear. Mental health is another problem that costs our industry dearly: Recent research from PwC suggests an annual cost of A$146m.
Advice: Where mining and METS companies are concerned, a high tide will float all boats. Leading and following are equally meaningful in the process of collaboration, and the importance of knowledge-sharing has never been higher. There are meaningful solutions to every inefficiency, but finding those solutions requires focus and commitment. Our blast initiation experts see this every day in the field.
5. Job security will decrease
We’ve all seen what happens when market volatility snaps the mining industry from a happy and productive spell. Commodity prices go south, operations tighten up, and rumours of layoffs begin to circulate. The ripple effect is felt throughout the METS sector, and everyone wonders when the next upset will occur.
Advice: We know that efficiency is the key to a steady and stable mining industry, in which market fluctuations cause minimal disruption to job security. Some of that efficiency will be unlocked by automation. Some will be unlocked by new methods of exploration. Other technologies, such as the Daveytronic® digital blasting system, can generate sustainable downstream efficiencies right now.
Uncertainty is part of the game
Within each of these legitimate fears is the excitement of a new horizon to be explored. Australia leads the world in creating a mining industry that is safer, more efficient, more profitable, and closer to the hearts of families and communities. Getting there requires no small measure of focus and commitment – but as the old saying goes, nothing worthwhile is easy.