Mining Program Strategic Plan, 2019-2023 - Ongoing Challenges and Emerging Issues
Looking forward, the future of mining will involve working in deeper mines, mines that are less accessible, and ores that are lower grade. In addition, economic pressures will require companies to increase their efficiencies to remain competitive. Mining in the future will involve more and more challenging conditions. As mines go deeper, it becomes more difficult to ventilate them to remove contaminants and to cool the air, which may reach temperatures upwards of 110oF, especially considering the heat generated by equipment and increases in subsurface temperature with depth. In situ ground stresses increase with depth and can result in geologic instabilities and seismicity, which will likely require more sophisticated ground support to maintain safe work spaces. Future mining may also require more mine workers to commute longer distances or to remote locations. Lower-grade commodities will require new technologies that allow selective mining to reduce waste rock and efficient processing of the ore. As the current mining workforce retires, the new workforce will be dominated by younger and less experienced workers as well as contractors and temporary workers. Finally, with new workers entering the workforce or transferring form other mines or other mining sectors, their inexperience at their new job may translate to increased injuries for these workers. Understanding the causes behind these injuries and how they can be addressed is critical.
Mines are adopting automation and other emerging technologies to remain competitive and increase efficiencies. Strategies such as monitoring and control systems, big data analytics, automation, and wearable and smart sensors are being deployed across the U.S. mining industry and particularly in coal and metal mines. The use of exoskeletons to aid with materials handling activities may have the potential to reduce both cumulative and traumatic musculoskeletal injuries that still are plaguing the industry. While automation technology may improve worker health and safety by removing workers from hazards, unintended hazards may also be introduced into the workplace. Inevitably, as we move towards automated equipment and processes, the interaction between manual and automated systems is another issue. Even fully automated systems require maintenance and will involve humans in those situations. Other areas of growing interest include increased injuries of powered haulage operators and those that work around powered haulage, the growing use of lithium-ion batteries and their possible effect of increasing the likelihood of fires and explosions, and the issue of electromagnetic interference between technologies that may affect the ability of devices to detect and warn mine workers. In order to address these emerging issues, we pay careful attention to the trending needs of the mine worker, as represented in detail throughout this Strategic Plan.