The mining sector has been in the midst of a market challenge for the last decade thanks in part to falling prices and demand as operations are continually forced to review business plans and cut costs wherever possible.
As a result of this, more operations have investigated how new mining and industrial technology and connected equipment can help drive down unnecessary costs and improve operational efficiency, without increasing risks to health and safety.
A recent report by PwC for instance highlighted that apart from health and safety improvements, technology investment is one of the prime focusses of the main mining operators across the world in the coming years.
According to statistics from the HSE, around 12,000 people in the UK die from dust inhalation related to exposure in the workplace every year and hazardous industries need to improve the working environment. While regulation is being tightened to improve working conditions, it is also the threat of legal claims that is focusing attention for managers, board members and shareholders alike.
Safety regulation across the globe has become ever more stringent as authorities have recognised the dangers associated with working in hazardous dusty environments. From mining to tunnelling and manufacturing, hundreds of thousands of individuals are working every day in high dust environments, and therefore at risk of inhaling potential health damaging toxins.
Traditional industrial sectors are not readily set up to deal with technological innovation and change, but these are also sectors in which technology and innovation can have the most dramatic impact both on health and safety, and productivity.
Many of the leaders in these sectors recognise the importance and benefits of innovation, but because they remain heavily reliant on traditional machinery and manpower, they can find it difficult to bring in new technology.
It is becoming cliché to say that technology is changing the face of business sectors all over the world, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening and the mining and manufacturing sectors are no different.
While traditionally labour-intensive and reliant on heavy, static equipment, smart and connected technology is now showing potential to completely change how mining and manufacturing businesses operate.
From remote and mobile environment and equipment monitoring, to real-time data and analytics to machine learning and automation, there is seemingly no end to the benefits new mining and manufacturing technology is bringing to historically industrial sectors.
Traditional worker well-being has primarily focused on improving workplace safety.
Whether avoiding injuries due to slips and trips, or falling or faulty equipment, keeping employees safe and free from injury has been – and will continue to be – a major part of industrial workplace health and safety.
In recent years however there has been a shift from focussing on general safety towards promoting employees’ long term health – especially the potential impacts on long-term health associated with working in hazardous environments.
Modern work environments are unquestionably safer than they have been in the past, with the rise of connected technology making it possible to detect potential problems before they arise and give early warnings to workers.
However, despite this increase in health and safety monitoring, industrial environments like mining and manufacturing inherently carry certain risks and in 2016/17, 137 people were killed in workplaces.
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.
Safety in mining and industrial operations has improved considerably over the past decade – and indeed, the last century. Mine and industrial legislation and standards have helped to pave the way for more structured workplace safety, ensuring working conditions are optimal and that operatives are well trained to mitigate problems.
Of course, while legislation has helped to improve safety across mining and industrial operations, it is technology that has played a key role in facilitating some of the more comprehensive mining and industrial safety practices. In many respects, legislation and industrial safety technologies have worked hand-in-hand to deliver all-encompassing security for the workforce.