A leading professor in the mining industry says companies need to get serious about safety and technology if they want to be allowed to continue operating.
Professor Peter Lilly, Executive Director of Minerals and Energy Strategy at Curtin University told the Mining & Engineering WA conference that the unless the mining industry ensures it can have zero fatalities, mining will no longer be a possibility in Australia.
“The fatality frequencies are still pretty ugly,” he said.
“If you went back 10 years they would be worse, but they’re still not good.”
“It’s declining in a non-rhythmic matter but it is flatlining.”
“To take those figures to zero, we can’t just keep doing the same things.”
Lilly said the industry needs to be looking at ways to get workers out from deep underground mines and instead rely on technology to do the work so our miners can stay safe.
“We have to take people out of deep underground mines,” he said.
“All our mines in 30 years will be deep underground mines.
He said the industry needs to be focused on “getting people out of hazardous situations, otherwise society will not allow us to operate.”
The mining professor did have some praise for the Australian mining industry, and said we should not think the sector is so productive simply because we have the minerals.
“My honest belief is that we don’t have a great resources sector because we have resources,” he said.
Lilly says the credit for the strong sector goes to mining management, companies, good resources as well as good research and development (R&D).
“Lots of countries would love to have this story,” he said.
The skills shortage is an increasingly problematic issue for the mining industry, and according to Lilly, it is the “overarch to everything we do in this industry.”
Current figures predict 33 000 skilled workers will be needed in WA alone this year and governments have outlined initiatives to speed up apprenticeships and make it easier for skilled migrants to enter Australia to work.
Last month it was reported WA-based Newcrest Mining would source some workers for its Telfer mine from eastern states, sparking fear within the NSW industry that local mines would not meet staff requirements.
Lilly said the resources industry has to change the ratios of staff to equipment to keep up with the rate of change in mining.
“Between 2010 and 2010 we are probably going to see as much change as we did between 1980 and 2010,” he said.
“I’m not terribly sure we’re prepared all very well for that.”