Over the course of more than 250 years of hard coal mining, Germany became the pioneer of mining technology. German hard coal mining finally ends in 2018, and due to the many breakthrough developments, this meeting is devoted to the “Technological Footprints of German Hard Coal Mining”. We want to carry the technological and intellectual legacy into the mining world and pass the baton of mining research on to you, the international community of experts. This is therefore a historic meeting of international significance, a bridging conference from the mining to the post-mining era (Figure 2).
We are here to look back on the many achievements, but also to look ahead into the future post-mining era. In Germany, more than 10 bn t of coal have been mined. The country was rebuilt and has prospered upon this foundation. Today, Germany is one of the most successful and highly respected political economies in the world. German mining is internationally renowned for innovation, responsibility and worker participation. This conference compiles the innovative capacity of global mining research. You, the experts, will be vigorously discussing the technical progress.
As CEO of RAG Aktiengesellschaft and a human resources professional, I would like to round off these insights by focusing more on the aspects of responsibility and worker participation. Mining shaped the coal areas and forged an identity for these regions. At its peak, German hard coal mining employed almost 600,000 people. For a long time, RAG was the largest employer in North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland. Worker participation in vital processes such as occupational health and safety or apprenticeship training has always been a critical factor for success.
Since its foundation in 1969, RAG has trained more than 100,000 young apprentices to provide the necessary manpower. Adhering to the tenet of “We train to retain”, RAG tried to offer jobs to all suitable apprentices. Job profiles on offer were adapted regularly to the current state-of-the-art. In the typical German dual training system, practical skills were trained on the job while theoretical knowledge was taught in vocational schools. Apprentices and instructors alike received structured qualification. Engineers for higher career levels were educated in close cooperation with academic institutions such as this TH Georg Agricola University. Programs combining apprenticeships and studies or advanced part-time studies were offered and supplemented with internship and thesis opportunities.
With the end of mining drawing nearer, RAG was confronted with entirely new challenges. Now, socially acceptable staff reductions of unparalleled extent required a framework provided by the management and cooperation and flexibility from staff, labor union and work council. In a joint effort, we realized staff cuts without laying off people. From a staff level of more than 30,000 in 2007, we are now at about 3,420 employees, and by 2022 we will bring it down further to a final staffing level of 466 employees.
Early retirement agreements and in-house relocations between mining sites and organizational units enabled the resizing process. In addition, we also assume responsibility for professional perspectives beyond mining and build bridges into the job market for many of our younger staff who cannot stay. We support our workers on their paths to new qualified jobs through training and by providing information on job offers and possibilities. Looking back at my own vita in human resources, I am proud that together, we successfully developed many people´s careers in this manner.
Occupational health and safety is an issue that was and is pursued in an effort that incorporates every career level. In the early stages of industrial coal mining, work was extremely dangerous. Since then, technology has advanced and accident rates have decreased. In the mid-1990s, however, we realized that more improvements were needed. An accident rate of about 60 accidents per million working hours and repeated occurrence of fatalities was simply too much. Accordingly, we declared safety a business objective of almost equal priority next to economic success.
The implementation of innovations in mining technology and staff development measures fundamentally increased both mining efficiency and work safety. Accident rates continuously decreased. The last fatality occurred in 2012. Today, the preliminary accident rate for 2018 is at 2.4 events per million working hours.
We are very happy and proud that we were able to further decrease accident rates that were already at low levels, especially in light of the coming end of mining. When the phase-out was finally decided, we did not say “This is the end”. On the contrary! We increased our efforts for safety and health as a top priority at RAG. To ensure adherence to safety regulations in a shrinking and aging work force, staff motivation and awareness levels need to be kept high. Not easy in a situation in which people are worried about their future. We continued well-established programs and introduced new formats such as the five minute safety talks.
We are participating in the BG RCI campaign VISION ZERO for an accident-free work environment and have even launched a completely new, award-winning safety campaign that focuses on people. It stresses their mutual responsibility and particularly highlights everyday dangers. We encourage all staff members to actively participate in the development and realization of safety projects. Our key to success is the combination of modern technologies and seeing and valuing the people who do the hard work.
Coming from a miner´s family and being a miner myself, I am moved by the melancholy of this historic caesura and feel with the mining community. But the end of mining is not the end of our efforts. There is still a lot to achieve in the future.
Mining left a large environmental footprint and its legacy will keep us busy in perpetuity: optimized mine water concepts to relieve rivers of salty drainage; polder activities to prevent soil wetness or flooding; treatment of mine and ground water; rehabilitation of contaminated soil and waste rock piles et cetera. All these activities require innovative, sustainable technologies and active, transparent discourse with authorities and the broader public. This is why we are continuing to pursue a path of technological progress and intensive dialogue with stakeholders. RAG wants to set the bar for ecological, sustainable and social post-mining management. We want to share our experience and boost mining efficiency, sustainability and safety all over the world.
Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Prof. Kretsch-mann and his team for the great organization of this unique event. I would like to encourage all of us to use this outstanding symposium as an opportunity to have a lively debate on previous achievements as well as to develop and improve our visions for mining technology in the near and distant future.
Chairman of the Executive Board
RAG Aktiengesellschaft, Essen/Germany