Moving into care and maintenance after its scheduled life of 10 years, De Beers’ Voorspoed mine in the Free State province leaves an enviable health and safety track record despite its difficult geological conditions.
According to Petrus Jordaan, senior MRM manager at Voorspoed mine, the mine’s complex country rock geology led to at least 48 incidents related to slope instability or falls-of-ground during its life.
This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 2, 2019
“Careful planning, team collaboration and best practice however ensured that none of these resulted in injuries to employees or significant damage to equipment.
Indeed, only the first of these incidents was unexpected,” he says. The mine’s geotechnical team, experts in slope stability monitoring, were able to consistently analyse and manage slope failure and rock-fall events to improve future responses.
“Most significantly, the mine has been fatality-free since construction activities began in 2007, and by the end of October 2018, we had recorded a total of 3 157 738 cumulative fatality-free shifts and 7 615 cumulative fatality-free production shifts,” Jordaan continues.
Voorspoed mine was also able to remain free of lost-time injuries (LTIs) for three and a half years.
Among awards received by the diamond mine is the John T Ryan Plaque in the diamond category for ‘Best in Class’ at the annual South African Mine Safe awards ceremony in 2018.
Jordaan says that the reasons for Voorspoed mine’s exemplary performance comes down to safety leadership, with outstanding team contributions to constantly improve safety processes, culture and performance.
He says this was founded on a deliberate early decision to recruit a young, diverse and educated workforce when the mine started production.
This made a significant positive contribution to the efficacy of training and skills development within the workforce.
Supported by the Mini Business Area (MBA) approach to frontline team empowerment, it embedded a culture of accountability and problem-solving at the lowest possible level of decision making.
The result was that everyone employed at the mine understood their job, the hazards associated with their job, and the controls in place to mitigate these risks.
“A supportive environment was also important, encouraging employees to speak up and get involved in driving business outcomes,” he says.
“Active participation by frontline employees helped to solve key operational challenges and embedded a culture that recognised the contribution of every employee to the success of the mine.”
Voorspoed mine embraced the concept of Learning from Incidents (LFI), evaluating and implementing learnings from other operations.
One example was the mine’s improvements in slope stability monitoring, leading to a controlled environment where geotechnical staff collaborated with mining shift operational staff to improve the way of working.
This was well demonstrated in an incident on the N28 Ramp in 2017, where movement and surveying radar (MSR) picked up some ramp movement in October; the geotechnical and mining staff immediately inspected the area and implemented the necessary controls.
Early the next day, the shift supervisor closed the ramp after she observed additional cracks, a timeous decision that averted any loss of life when the ramp subsequently failed.
Constant advances in mining standards were combined with disciplined execution.
In drilling and blasting, for example, the mine’s limit blasting and double-benching standards and work practices are now generally regarded as ‘best practice’ and are shared by other operations.