The mining industry has a long history of being difficult and dangerous. Until 2001, mining was considered the most dangerous industry on earth—twice as hazardous as construction. Before 2001, the mining industry saw about 23 deaths for every 100,000 miners.
Although dangerous, the U.S. mining industry is safer than in countries with little to no safety regulations. For instance, 6,995 coal miners died in China in 2002. It was the most dangerous year on record.
Technology is evolving to support the mining industry
Among the various technologies supporting a safer and more productive mining industry are high-tech mining generators built to state requirements. Having equipment that meets state regulations should be the foundation for every mining operation. Mining isn’t just dangerous to humans, but also to the environment. Accidents and environmental damage are more likely to occur when regulations are overlooked.
These high-tech mining generators are currently being produced for use in Australia, and it’s only a matter of time before all mining operators are outfitted with regulation-approved generators.
Before we get into the other technologies making this dangerous profession a little safer, let’s look at the dangers technology is working to prevent and mitigate.
What are the dangers of mining?
Common dangers miners face include:
- Gas and dust explosions
- Collapsing roofs
- Faulty equipment
- Suffocation from carbon monoxide, nitrogen, methane, and sulfur
- Health hazards that take time to develop, including lung diseases like pneumoconiosis and mesothelioma
How has the mining industry responded to the need to improve safety?
The mining industry has already enacted safety policies that require the installation of safety chambers. These are sealed spaces that contain four days of food, water, and air to allow miners to escape dangerous gasses. These chambers are a good plan B, but they certainly don’t make mining any safer.
Thankfully, modern technologies are making mining safer and more productive. The most impressive is robotics.
How robotic technology is improving mining safety and efficiency
Robots are used in just about every industry, and mining is no exception. The Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) utilizes robots to load autonomous vehicles that haul those loads. Mining companies are also using robots to test samples for properties and quality in large lots at a rapid pace.
Even more impressive is the invention of rescue robots. During the 2006 Sago mine explosion, the first-ever rescue robot was deployed to rescue trapped miners. Unfortunately, the robot got stuck a few feet in, and the rescue attempt was unsuccessful. However, this technology can be improved over time, and we’ll eventually see a successful robot rescue.
Cisco is helping to improve mining industry operations
Cisco Systems has created a way for mining companies to track and improve operations and processes like never before. Cisco helps mining companies install sensors on mining equipment and miners that feed real-time data through wireless access points that transmit that data into the cloud. From there, experts can analyze the data as if they were watching the mining operation in real-time, but from a better vantage point.
Collecting and analyzing this data is critical for improving operations and safety. If an accident were to happen with the sensors in place, the data could be analyzed to find out what exactly went wrong, so it can be prevented in the future.
Shaft and tunnel boring systems have gone high-tech
Conventional tunnel boring machines are full of technical difficulties, expensive, and slow. New technology is emerging to replace these outdated systems. These advanced systems can dig safely and twice as fast as conventional technology. For instance, the Atlas Copco mining machine cuts through hard rock at a rate of over 10m per day.
Mining will always be dangerous, but technology can reduce risk
There’s no way to avoid the dangers of mining. When you bore through hard rock to get underground, there’s no place to escape a cave-in or deadly gasses and explosions. Natural mining accidents can’t be prevented. However, technology is helping to prevent the accidents that can be prevented.
Mining isn’t going to disappear as an industry anytime soon. Our world uses too many resources found in the earth for mining to become a thing of the past. However, mining companies that take advantage of technology to improve operations are going to see fewer accidents, injuries, and deaths. Perhaps one day, mining will no longer be considered the most dangerous profession in the world.