More automation will reduce the number of workers needed in the mining industry

More automation will reduce the number of workers needed in the mining industry

Nov 10th, 2016

We recently read an article stating that more automation will reduce the number of workers needed in the mining industry, like in many other industries.

More automation will reduce the number of workers needed in the mining industry

WABCO 3200B HAULPAC TRUCK at Britannia Mines museum at Britannia Beach, British Columbia

The advent of self-driving vehicles is calling for a societal paradigm shift comparable to last century’s industrial revolution. Of course we are referring to Elon Musk’s Tesla, Google self-driving cars and Mercedes Benz self-driving trucks.

More automation will reduce the number of workers needed in the mining industry

The advent, for example, of Komatsu’s Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) which allows unmanned operation of ultra-class mining trucks lies within this context.
According to a study by the International Institute for Sustainable development (IISD) in Geneva, countries where miners are rapidly adopting such technologies may receive less benefits from mining. The question asked by the study can be spelled as follows. What will happen in the near and medium terms to the local employment and procurement components? And what will happen to mining companies’ social licence to operate (SLO), if technological change radically alters the amount of money mining firms are spending on hiring, procurement and other practices regarded as creating benefits (shared value)?
It is a very interesting study and we feel like adding a few “risk driven” ideas under the form of risk and crises scenarios.

Risk and crises scenarios

Let’s start with the following. A mine plans to use self driving haulage trucks and other automation. As a matter of fact, these may be even include cooks and record keeping.  Thus the company does not hire a number of people that were expecting jobs in “normal” circumstances. On top of, say, agricultural water issues, environmental concerns, the mine will not “solve” the local unemployment problem.

Most likely SLO will be more difficult to obtain and maintain to start with. Indeed the situation will appear as unfair. Where is the shared value component of the project?
Let’s suppose the company overcomes all the hurdles and let’s fast forward a few years. Some automation mishap generates an accident with environmental consequences that people see as possibly having been easy to avoid “if a human was there”.
NB: this is probably not true, as we all know that human error reigns in basically any form of accident, from traffic to tailings dams, to nuclear.

However, now things start going really sour.
And what if a cyber attack (hacking) would be the culprit?
Even worse, right? For now the public considers the company liable of blatant cyber negligence.

The solution

Communication and transparency (on top of tactful negotiations) seem to be the only way.
Both require convergent, scalable, drillable risk assessments. Assessments that can answer the questions of multiple parties and include the development of multi-faceted tolerance thresholds.
The studies, like the one we developed for a European country Armed Forces consider cyber attacks and interdependencies. In fact those are physical, geographic, logical and cyber.
Such a platform exist. It’s name is ORE (Optimum Risk Estimates) and we will discuss its estimates at the Risk and Resilience 2016 conference in a course as well as in  a paper we wrote in cooperation with SNC Lavalin Mining and Metallurgy and SNC Lavalin Environment and Geoscience, .

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Category: Optimum Risk Estimates, Risk analysis, Risk management

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