de beers safety

Diamond giant De Beers enjoyed a fatality-free year in 2019, an achievement which reflects the fact that the Group regards safety as its number one value, taking precedence over all others.

It recently held its sixth CEO Safety Summit at its Johannesburg headquarters, with the participants renewing their commitment to ensuring the company remains at the forefront of the mining industry’s move to pioneer safely into a brilliant future, Dr URISHANIE GOVENDER, the Group’s Head of Safety & Sustainable Development tells Mining Review Africa.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 3, 2020
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“De Beers Group held its first CEO Safety Summit in 2017 and it has now become a permanent part of our calendar, being held twice a year, normally in January or February and then again in August,” says Govender.

“The participants are drawn from the highest levels of the Group globally, including Debswana, De Beers Marine Namibia and Namdeb, our joint ventures in Botswana and Namibia respectively.

“Our CEO, Bruce Cleaver, clears his diary for the day, as do all the CEOs within the Group and their relevant colleagues.” The Summit is also supported by senior officials from Anglo American.

According to Govender, the latest summit re-emphasised the importance of five safety focus areas already identified by De Beers at earlier summits. She identifies these as Leadership and Culture; Critical Control Management; Capacity Building; Learning and Sharing; and Contractor Management.

On the Subject of Leadership and Culture, Govender says that while each and every person in De Beers is regarded as a ‘safety leader’ and are empowered to be the strongest link. Those in the top executive positions – are the ones who set the tone.

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““We are fortunate that our CEO, Bruce Cleaver, and the CEOs of the Group companies, are all passionate about safety. There is no question about the commitment and enthusiasm they bring to the issue of safety and this permeates down to all De Beers’ employees.”

Interestingly, the summit finalised plans for a new award within De Beers. Named the Albert Milton Award, in honour of Debswana’s late MD, Albert Milton, who was a highly respected, 25-year veteran of the company and acknowledged safety leader, it will recognise individuals or teams within the Group who have made significant contributions to safety.

Referring to Critical Control Management, the second focus area, Govender says that safety is dependent on controls that need to be in place 24/7 throughout the year. She believes that technology has a key role to play in this area.

“To give one example, we are now introducing an Advanced Driving Assistance System (ADAS) to the Group, which is designed to monitor safe driving behaviour and promote a safe driving culture,” she says.

“At this stage, it has been rolled out at our Venetia mine and is being piloted at other operations but the goal is to eventually have the technology installed in every single vehicle throughout the Group that is being used to transport people.”

Capacity Building, the third focus area, involves training and development to ensure that all employees are risk competent and ready to respond to risk.

Central to Capacity Building is the roll out of a series of multi-level training programmes known as the A Series, which are designed to impart to all De Beers employees an understanding of the different levels of risk within the business and train them in proactive risk management.

Turning to Learning and Sharing, Govender notes that De Beers has a highly transparent and pro-active approach to safety which emphasises an immediate response to safety incidents and a sharing of the lessons learned from them.

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“In the case of fatalities, which thankfully are now very rare, we stop work the next day throughout the Group,” she says.

“We call people to central points and we share with them what happened and why it happened, based on our initial learnings. We also, of course, empathise with our employees because we are all part of one big family – the De Beers family.”

Work halts can also be called when any De Beers operation experiences what is known as a High Potential Incident (HPI), an HPI being defined as an “incident or near-miss that, realistically, could have under other circumstances caused one or more fatalities.”

Govender says that all such incidents are tracked and immediately addressed at the highest level within De Beers.

“Typically, Cleaver will devote 15 or 30 minutes to discussing the incident via video conferencing with all the CEOs of our individual companies and joint ventures globally. They will jointly review what has happened, what has been learned and what remedial measures can be taken,” she explains.

Discussing the final focus area, Contractor Management, Govender points out the latest Safety Summit saw participation by a major logistics contractor providing services to the De Beers Group.

“It’s extremely important that our contractors are in total alignment with our value system and our safety philosophy and technical standards,” Govender stresses.

“To help achieve this, we need to know what the experiences of contractors are when they work for De Beers and how we can improve the relationships we have with them to ensure that we all work towards our common goal of Zero Harm. So, the input provided by this contractor at the Summit was invaluable.”

Moving forward, Govender says that De Beers is in the process of establishing a Group Safety Framework to significantly contribute to collective success across the five focus areas and achieve resilience.

“We want to have the framework in place and active throughout the Group by the third quarter of this year,” she says.