For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had the privilege of visiting a large mining community. I was surprised to see relatively few mine workers in their 50s or 60s. Pre-COVID, this was not the case. There had been a shift over the COVID years, which retired the boomers and brought in the millennials. Not surprisingly, human resources are stretched thin, resulting in the need to prioritize between production and ancillary activities. The health and well-being of this new workforce are of concern to everyone who will benefit from their labor.
The world population is changing; it is getting older. With few exceptions, the average age in most countries is getting older each year. The last 80 years saw an unprecedented rise in the world population. The swelling number of young people starting after WWII provided an eager group of young people to draw upon for the myriad of jobs necessary to fuel an economic boom. However, birth rates per female have been trending downward since the 1980s.
The most significant retirement in America's history thus far coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. The mass retirement of baby boomers over the past two years has been nothing short of epic. The world woke up after COVID to an unprecedented labor shortage. Many thought that people were refusing to work; while this may have been true in isolated cases, fewer workers is the new normal.
Kudos to the mining companies, who are progressive in their understanding of this urgent matter. Previously, lung diseases were a human tragedy and not an industry crippling problem. It is a very different story in 2022. To successfully compete for this millennial workforce, industries will do a better job protecting working lung health and use it to promote their industry.
Air quality and lung health are inseparable. ISO and Technical Committee 82 – Mining has provided a powerful tool to protect machine operator lung health in harsh dusty environments. ISO 23875:2021 with Amendment 1. It is worth noting that machine operators, particularly in mining, represent a significant portion of the workforce. For machine operators, the cab is their most important personal protection equipment.