De Beers
A fire drill at Debmarine Namibia

For international diamond giant De Beers, improving safety is considered its number one priority and is not just a requirement, but a living value that the company continuously strives to ensure.

This value is respected and upheld by every employee – from the CEO to the newest recruitments.

It is the actions behind a company’s intentions or promises that truly proves its commitment and breathing zero harm into the life of every employee has become an actionable deliverable at De Beers.

“We have moved beyond discussing our hopes for zero harm and are taking physical steps and actions to reach this target with immediacy,” says Dr Urishanie Govender, head of safety and sustainable development for the whole De Beers Group.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 9 2018

This has manifested in a CEO Safety Summit, initiated last year with the purpose of taking the necessary steps to always put safety first.

AUTHOR: Editor of Mining Review Africa, Laura Cornish

Although intended to be an annual event held in January, a follow-up Summit was held in South Africa in August to reinforce CEO Bruce Cleaver’s dedication to making De Beers a safe company to work for – in light of two fatalities that took place earlier this year at Venetia and Jwaneng.

Present at the Summit was a diverse range of attendees from De Beers’ operations across the globe – including colleagues from the Group’s executive committee, general managers, safety and sustainable development leads and safety line managers from Element Six, midstream and upstream – all present to discuss how De Beers can achieve zero harm.

Representatives from the company’s majority shareholder Anglo American also participated to share their insights and learnings from their safety work.

While Govender is still relatively new to De Beers, having joined in July this year, she states confidently that the company undoubtedly recognises safety as its number one value.

“The Safety Summit demonstrated this. Our CEO is walking the safety talk himself and expects the same from his leadership team without question. For our high level corporates to clear their diaries for an entire day to discuss the pathway to zero harm is commendable and is already delivering results throughout the company.”

Gahcho Kue Mine in Canada where a supervisor leads the morning toolbox safety talk in the truck shop at the mine

Further to this, Govender reveals that the successes emerging from the Summits since their launch has been immediate.

“This is because the day is not spent discussing our safety aspirations but introducing steps and actions that will drive improve safety through lessons learnt, ideas sharing and new initiatives that will take us forward on this journey.”

“And it was the high degree of humility from the CEOs and their colleagues to adopt practises and also technologies which will enable us to perform safely (and more productively) that highlighted the passion this company breathes in aspiring towards zero harm.  There is complete belief from every person in the company that we can always do better.”

Dr Urishanie Govender, De Beers Group head of safety and sustainable development

Discussing some of the key takeaways from the August Safety Summit, Govender outlines that there is a growing expectation from leadership for leadership to play a greater and more active role in safety to drive the elimination of fatalities.

“We believe our supervisors can be enormously influential in this area and so we have established a forum to review and evaluate their role to ensure they have the knowledge and tools to promote and enforce safety. If we address our supervisors’ needs, we are confident this will impact positively on our safety culture and performance throughout our operations,” Govender outlines.

Another area of safety addressed at the Summit was the introduction of job risk assessment profiles, at each De Beers operation.

100 jobs have been identified for assessment and each will be examined to determine the risk profile and review if the correct measures have been established to eliminate associated risks.

The necessary training tools will be updated and the company’s overall operating guidelines updated as part of this activity to ensure fatality preventative steps are actioned where necessary across every position in the Group.

“We will be institutionalising this activity within De Beers by the end of this year and possible budget implications that arise from this will be prioritised,” Govender highlights.

Gender-specific PPE is one element of this assessment for example which De Beers is evaluating and improving moving forward.

The Summit also identified the need to increase training and site-specific training requirements will consequently be reviewed.

Govender highlights that the company does already employ permanent trainers on its sites who are responsible for developing and implementing new safety standards as required.

As Govender moves forward in her role, she will spend time travelling the globe to understand each and every De Beers operation and their safety and sustainability needs.

“I am passionate about the role I will play in driving safety and sustainability in the company and will continue the work I have already started in completing a five-year diamond sustainability roadmap for the company,” she concludes.

“From the discussions at the Summit it is clear that we have made good progress in embedding our Put Safety First value. What is also clear is that we have robust safety practices in place to identify and address hazards and risks which gives me confidence.

"As a result of the Summit, we have agreed to continue our critical control strategy work and standardising the management of preventative controls. I am proud of our collective passion to keep talking and learning about, and engaging with, safety excellence,” Cleaver concluded in a letter to all who attended the Summit.

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