technologies; (2) remote control and automation; (3) operations and maintenance to improve performance and availability of equipment; and (4) new technologies for unit operations, such as the size of buckets and truck capacities in hauling and loading. Interviewees discussed the critical role of workers and the management and organization of mining facilities as well as the importance of outsourcing, safety through training, and empowering rank-and-file workers and upgrading their roles in problem solving. Concerns expressed included issues associated with the aging workforce, the lack of skilled workers, and the need to increase the multidisciplinary and critical thinking skills of miners in preparation for future mining technologies. The committee shares these concerns.
The committee also reviewed a study by the National Research Council (NRC, 2002) that describes possible future technological developments and associated health, safety, and environmental issues in mining. The study considered how new technologies such as in situ and solution mining, automated systems, and larger equipment and systems may affect working conditions. The committee agrees with the report finding that new technologies, including computer-based monitoring and control, have the potential for improving health and safety, but these same technologies may result in unforeseen hazards, especially if used inappropriately. New hazards are inadequately identified, and known hazards are not avoided because of inadequate monitoring and/or control. The introduction of new equipment and systems in the workplace, mining in virgin areas, and the infusion of new workers all have the potential to create hazards. Adequate engineering controls and a knowledgeable workforce are prerequisites for a safe work environment.
Although, to a large extent, the Mining Program does research relevant to the present and future mining industry, the program does not have the annual discretionary funds required to start large or risky projects necessary to address the needs of the future. The program may receive additional funding for specific research such as a recent congressional appropriation of $10 million for critical disaster response technologies in oxygen supply, refuge chambers, and communication and tracking (Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Hurricane Recovery, 2006, P.L. 109-234, § 7010).1
Resources should be allocated appropriately to allow the Mining Program to prepare for emerging issues in addition to addressing current issues. Flexibility needs to be built into the mining program to respond more rapidly to needs dictated by current events (as in response to accidents) or in looking at paradigm-changing approaches to reduce health and safety risks.
See also http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/mineract/emergencysupplementalappropriation.htm [accessed March 5, 2007].