Joel Lööw
Joel Lööw, PhD student in Human Work Science at Luleå University of Technology. View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Social issues in focus when mines are modernized

Published: 3 December 2018

The European mining industry is changing but its image as dark, dirty and dangerous remains. New technology can increase safety and result in positive changes in work environment. But as mines modernize, research is needed that includes the people who will use their new systems.

– The mining industry's workforce is male-dominated and has a high median age. At the same time, mining is becoming more technically advanced. This sets new competence requirements, but it is difficult to recruit people to the new workforce because few see it as a future job. So it's about continuing to improve the working environment, and to do it in such a way that young people – and women in particular – want to work in the mining industry, says Joel Lööw, PhD student in Human Work Science at Luleå University of Technology.

The future workforce needs to be involved

Luleå University of Technology has a long experience of research in Human Work Science related to mining work, and it is one of few universities in the world that work with technology development and social issues in its mining research.

In the EU-funded multi-million project, Sustainable Intelligent Mining Systems (SIMS), researchers will investigate how new technologies can be used to contribute to attractive, sustainable, safe and competitive workplaces in the European mining industry.

– For example, it could be electric mining machines that reduce emissions, drones that can carry out inspections of the mine instead of sending down a person, or communication and location technology that can position people and equipment in their daily work or in case of emergency.

– Our research focuses on involving the current and potential future workforce and their perspectives in developing this new technology, and on the social issues. For example, norm criticism, gender perspectives and job motivation. Technical requirements alone cannot influence the design, and if only current employees are involved, there is a risk that future workplaces will be designed to fit only them, concludes Joel Lööw.

Will result in guidelines

The aim is to gather experiences and develop guidelines for how mining companies can work with new technology from a social or human work science perspective. The researchers base their work on previous, closely related projects as well as a new handbook, Designing Ergonomic, Safe, and Attractive Mining Workplaces (written by Joel Lööw, Bo Johansson, Eira Andersson and Jan Johansson), which was recently published.

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