Shift in research towards 'soft sciences' evident

THE latest 2001 Research priorities document from the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP)* highlights emerging trends becoming increasingly important in local coal research.

Staff Reporter

While in the past the bulk of ACARP funding was directed to ‘hard science’ solutions – improving the productivity of machinery, automation, etc – there is now a growing recognition that technological improvements alone will not save lives.

While technology or hard science projects like these will continue to be supported, and justifiably so, the industry is now recognizing the impact of things like fitness for duty, management issues, mine closures and health and safety issues. This is a brave shift in an industry dominated by a requirement to make everything measurable and quantifiable.

The latest 2001 Research priorities document outlines five areas that have been identified as priorities for underground research. These are:

Improved Health and Safety program

Management of Mining Conditions program

Higher Productivity Mining Systems program

Improved Reliability of Equipment and Services program

Management of Environmental Impacts program

The Improved Health and Safety program’s primary goal is to develop a pro-active workplace health program. This includes looking at ways of improving machinery ergonomics, reducing diesel emissions, and generally improving the underground mining environment.

Under this heading the document calls for proposals around self-escape, mine ventilation and gas control systems, and minimization of fires and explosions.

ACARP calls for research into open-cut mining to look at these areas:

Improved Health and Safety

Increase the Productivity of Mining Systems

Improvement in the Reliability of Equipment and Services

Improve Management of Environmental Impact

Improved Geological Definition of Coal Deposits

Under Improve Management of Environmental Impact, ACARP has called for proposals on mine closure, including “an identification of the (social) issues and priorities of a coal mining dependent Central Queensland community in the context of mine closure.”

Again, this willingness to extend the research effort beyond the technical arena, into the broader context of the impact of coal mining on people’s lives is courageous.

* The ACARP program is funded, owned and managed by Australian coal producers. Its goal is to develop and adopt technology and mining practice that leads the world. Further information on ACARP, as well as the complete document outlining the 2001 Research priorities may be obtained at