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Planning is underway for members of surface mining industry association, ASPASA, to deliver detailed environmental audits during the Covid-19 pandemic that may be extended beyond the lockdown if required.

ASPASA has been at the forefront, locally and internationally, of introducing mandatory annual audits to ensure its members comply with all relevant legislation and meet the association’s own code of practice. However, changes in environmental legislation and increasing community awareness of environmental matters, has prompted ASPASA to shift away from rigid audits and move towards inclusive methods to ensure better results.

“We want everybody in the mining industry to know what the environmental requirements are rather than just the environmental officers. By changing the way we do things, and by allowing members to engage our auditors on their own terms, it will make for a more comfortable interaction and encourage the quarry manager and staff to be involved,” says Nico Pienaar, director of ASPASA.

Fair system

“That is not to say that the audits will be airy-fairy, to the contrary, they are being carefully designed by our technical experts and industry team leaders to deliver conclusive results that can be trusted by all concerned. They will just be easier to undertake and will be more interactive by requiring the quarry manager and other members of the team to be involved alongside the environmental officers.

“Covid-19 has also played a role in the redesign of the audits. Social distancing, limited access and other lockdown restrictions has led to the widescale acceptance of remote online meetings and opened the door for new ways of doing things. These online methods will almost certainly be used as one of the methods to assist members to comply with environmental requirements in future and is one of the methods we want to adopt to demystify the subject of environmental management.

“In the past, the problem was that auditors would be rigid, find fault, criticize and make managers scared of the auditing process. During the COVID-19 lockdown period, the issue of how we look at this subject matter came under the spotlight and we have strived to rationalize on how to tackle the problem, in a new way,” says Nico.

Cutting costs

He explains that the new focus will be to ensure the quarry or operations manager knows what is happening on their site. It will require the manager to do a presentation to the evaluator (auditor) and discuss requirements of the individual site. They will check the basic requirements such as each operation must have an EMP, Social and Labour Plan, Water Licence etc.

It was found that in many cases environmental documents had been developed by external consultants, often costing companies huge amounts of money, while the manager on site did not have much knowledge about it. The problem identified as a result was that communities began approaching operations with threats, demands and misinformation requiring the manager to be fully versed on these subjects in order to defend the operation.

Likewise, if the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and Environmental Affairs pays an operation a visit, the manager should be able to show inspectors required documentation and guidelines and support it with a full presentation that has been checked by the evaluator for compliance.

Near completion

Thus far, a dry run at an existing quarry was successful. Two training sessions on MS TEAMS will be held in July to share some of the work and preparations to be done in planning for audits in 2022.

“We plan to make the audits easy to comply with and want to meet our members on their terms when it is convenient for them. Whether onsite or online, we want to gain the full support and understanding of quarry managers to the process of complying with environmental management requirements,” concludes Nico.