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Why the autonomous future still needs quarry workers

Posted on February 27th, 2018 in Mining

At Hitachi’s recent Social Innovation Forum in Brisbane, the electronics giant predicted that Australia’s mining industry will be almost fully autonomous by 2030.

Driverless vehicles, drones carrying out surveys and other new technologies are already improving safety and productivity at the big mines and reducing costs up to 25 percent. These technologies will be much more widespread as they mature and become more affordable to smaller companies.

Research by AlphaBeta found that mining labourers currently spend 86 percent of their time on tasks that can be automated. With little more than a decade until machines are carrying out the majority of mining activities, where does this leave mine and quarry workers?

Evolving roles

The mining industry will continue be a major employer, but the existing workforce will transition into different roles and a different skill set will be required for the next generation of personnel. These new roles will involve operating, monitoring and maintaining the huge array of machinery on sites.

One of the country’s largest gold mine operators, Northern Star Resources, recently invested $50 million in a 10-year program to train and expand its workforce around self-driving electric vehicles. Hitachi has hired around 2,000 new employees since 2016 as it expands its own operations.

Improved satisfaction

Transitioning from risky, repetitive and labour-intensive quarry work to more creative and interpersonal roles will increase job satisfaction by 62 percent, according to AlphaBeta.

As mines employ more Internet of Things (IoT) systems that can be operated remotely, sometimes from thousands of kilometres away, there will be a reduced need for workers to relocate from cities to remote locations and leave behind their loved ones.

Improved safety

One of the biggest advantages of more autonomous sites is a reduced rate of injuries and fatalities. Putting workers out of harm’s way not only saves lives, it also saves money on insurance and liability, as well as making the industry more appealing to a wider base of jobseekers.

One firm that’s already seen huge safety gains by automating operations is Rio Tinto. Since introducing autonomous trucks at its sites, injury rates have dropped from 1.21 per 200,000 hours in 2007 to just 0.44 by 2016.

Are jobs at risk?

As the mining boom continues, the industry will continue to be a leading employer offering competitive compensation to workers with desirable skills. Current employees who are already engaged in “human” tasks or who are willing to retrain will see their careers benefit from automation. However, those who are less skilled and resistant to retraining will be at the highest risk of redundancy.

As the industry becomes increasingly automated over the next decade, employers need to find ways to appeal to technically-minded graduates who may not be considering mining, based on its traditional image of a labour-intensive, male-dominated occupation that no longer applies.

Find out more about the challenges facing the industry

Hear industry leaders talk about the current state of quarrying, construction and infrastructure in Australia by attending the National Construction Equipment Convention (NCEC).

This three-day conference is coming to Sydney Showground from 15-17 November 2018.

To find out more, visit


Hitachi. Hitachi invests $875 million AUD in Australian Social Innovation Business and predicts mining industry will be operated by machines by 2030.

AlphaBeta. The Automation Advantage.