LAS VEGAS – The state of the mining industry and its future was on the minds of several industry leaders during the opening session Monday at the MINExpo International 2016 in Las Vegas.

Nina Easton of Fox News moderated a panel that consisted of Newmont Mining Corp. President and CEO Gary Goldberg, Joy Global Inc. President and CEO Ted Doheny, Contura Energy Inc. CEO Kevin S. Crutchfield, Freeport-McMoRan Inc. President and COO – Americas and Africa Mining Harry “Red” Conger, and Hecla Mining Co. President and CEO Phillips S. Baker Jr.

The panel spoke on where the industry is in the country, but it also discussed what will happen in mining into the future.

Easton asked how equipment today is making mining more safe.

“In the industry, an accident in mining is a big deal,” Doheny said. “It’s newsworthy. … It’s not can we injure folks less every year and pat ourselves on the back. I came from a different industry. Mining is at world class safety levels. The problem is when there is an issue it’s real, so they won’t talk about making the mine safer. We all talk about zero harm. We celebrate zero now.”

He said technology advancements in the industry are keeping people out of harm’s way. He said people used to walk the face at a mine but now there are cameras that can see in the dark and through the dust.

Goldberg said mining companies compete in different areas, but safety and health is not one of them.

“We work together,” he said. “We share the information.”

Goldberg said suppliers have helped the mines with fatigue management by having technology that can alert the person while he or she is operating the equipment.

He also said focusing on core safety has helped to decrease the number of injuries.

“We’ve seen a significant improvement and reduction in the number of injuries,” Goldberg said. “We’re still not quite to zero harm. I think that’s always our goal in this journey, but we’ve made good inroads.”

Crutchfield said zero harm is possible, but it will take more work.

“We still have injuries,” he said. “We get hung up in statistics, but what we have to remember is that at the end of every one of those statistics is a person.”

Doheny said the “holy grail” for mining is automation, but people still need to be able to watch what the machine is doing.

Everyone on the panel said the advances in technology are changing the workforce. Miners need different skill sets in today’s world than they did 10 years ago. Crutchfield said people think of mechanics just using wrenches, but most hook the machines up to a computer and run a diagnostic on the equipment.

“I think we’ve got to move away from being thought of as an industry of the past,” Crutchfield said. “We are an industry of the future.”

The panel said miners need an education, from a technical school to university degrees.

Doheny said the industry also needs to encourage more women to become miners. He said “not enough” women are coming into the industry.

“I think we’re missing out on the intellectual capability when it’s over 50 percent now that college graduates are women,” Doheny said. “If we’re not getting that, we’re missing out.”

The panel also touched on the image of mining to those who aren’t in the industry.

“It starts with a legacy that goes back hundreds of years,” Conger said. “There is evidence today of things that were done over a hundred years ago that we wouldn’t do today, but it exists.”

He gave the example of an abandoned mine with a tailings dam that is draining into a creek.

“None of us want that,” Conger said. “… But that legacy is there.”

He said the mines need to inform the public on everything they do to protect the environment.

“We do have an impact on the environment, that’s just a cold-hard reality,” Conger said.

“I think we’ve got to move away from being thought of as an industry of the past. We are an industry of the future.” Kevin S. Crutchfield, Contura Energy Inc.