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Joel Lööw
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New dissertation: Technology and sensitivity are needed in the mine

Published: 29 September 2020

The mining industry does not manage to attracting the skills needed to maintain its productivity and to address future challenges. A new dissertation in human work science from Luleå University of Technology shows that technical and social solutions must be able to work together in the mining industry to retain the current and recruit a new labour force.

– The one does not exclude the other; both approaches, social and technical, are needed. How one chooses to approach one question affects how other challenges, including those that follow with that particular solution, can be handled,” dissertation's author, Joel Lööw says.

The dissertation consists of interviews and observations with technology developers, operators and work environment managers in the mining industry between 2014 and 2020, with a focus on work environment and technology. Parts of the dissertation work have resulted in a handbook on work environment and technology for people active in the mining industry.

Technical approaches is the traditional solution

Historically, the mining industry has tried to solve problems mainly through technical means, regardless of whether the problem is of a technical or social nature. In his dissertation, Joel Lööw describes how the mining industry uses battery-powered machines, automation and digitization in order to create a better working environment, but also how these interventions do not only have positive effects. An example is how wifi technology is used to locate the employees in the mine. On the one hand, it can be experienced as positive by the employees because the technology enhances safety. On the other hand, it can mean an intrusion into personal integrity since operators are constantly monitored.

Many young people are worried about the environmental consequences of the mining industry. Battery-powered mining machines can therefore contribute to making the mine a more attractive workplace for that target group. The existing older workforce, on the other hand, can be more neutral to battery technology, putting greater emphasis on work environment aspects – for example, that the mining industry's vehicles be ergonomically designed. Furthermore, new solutions to a greater extent must be introduced in dialogue with all stakeholders in order for these solutions to be successful.

Wants to influence new technical solutions

– A recurring theme in my empirical material is that the people that the developers hope will experience new solutions as attractive are not involved in developing the technology. There is a lack of an inclusive, democratic perspective in the development of a good working environment; how to implement is as important as what you implement. The development process must be transparent and inclusive to achieve success, Joel Lööw says .

The user perspective is lacking. But to introduce such a perspective is not enough to fix the situation, according to Joel Lööw.

– There are many ‘non-users’ who are affected by new technology but that are not given the opportunity to voice their opinions. One must even take into consideration the opinions from surrounding society. The way in which different actors understand new technology that is being introduced in a workplace is of crucial importance in order for new workplaces to be seen as attractive in society at large.

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