With its sights set on Zero Harm in the workplace, Murray & Roberts Cementation is constantly pushing the boundaries with new approaches and initiatives to improve safety, risk executive TREVOR SCHULTZ tells Mining Review Africa.
According to Schultz, no company can afford to be complacent about its safety-related efforts, least of all in the underground mining segment.
“Even with our international best practice in risk management, where the latest policies, systems and practices are in place, we are always working to find opportunities for making operations safer,” says Schultz.
“It is a great advantage to be an international company, so we can learn from our colleagues globally; it is also a vital strength for us to be engaged with local mining bodies where safety is a priority area.”
The annual health and safety conference for the Murray & Roberts Group, for instance, is always a valuable learning experience. He highlights how certain lessons learnt by the Group’s oil and gas division, for example, were adapted for the mining environment, harnessing the value of critical control management.
“An important step in our safety journey has been the roll-out of our Major Accident Prevention (MAP) initiative,” he says.
“MAP helped us identify critical controls which are verified at management and supervisory levels, and this is now being taken to the workforce level where it will impact even more on daily decisions that affect safety.”
Among the new concepts that Murray & Roberts Cementation is applying towards the goal of Zero Harm is neuro-science and neuro-leadership. The focus here is to affect the way that employees think about the work they do, says Schultz. As part of a Group initiative, this approach is being piloted at one of the company’s mining sites in the Northern Cape.
“In fact, this approach goes even beyond safety, to explore the unwritten culture of ‘how things are done’ within an organisation,” he says.
“In many ways, an employee’s attitude to safety at work is based on sub-conscious perceptions of how we operate. We have to ensure that these assumptions are fully supportive of the safety practices and outcomes for which we are aiming.”
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While this initiative began at executive level, it is now being taken on board by supervisory and management levels among mining and engineering employees.
Another important avenue being pursued is the employment of technology to help reach safety goals. Again, this is being practically tested on a site where Murray & Roberts Cementation is conducting a mining contract ensuring that real-world solutions can be applied.
“The traditional challenges to communicating in an underground environment have always hampered safety efforts,” says Schultz. “But the digital revolution has given us the tools to overcome some of the old limitations.”
With a Wi-Fi backbone now installed in the operation, the company is examining a range of software applications on portable devices like tablets and smartphones.
The value of real time communication – on voice or email platforms – is just one aspect of enhancing safety underground. There are also important opportunities to convey reports, images, policies and procedures between below-ground workings and surface, all in real-time to facilitate quicker and better operational decisions.
“We can even empower safety teams underground to conduct inspections more efficiently and report back to management in real time,” he says. “Digital technology and portable devices can help streamline the extensive paperwork required of certain levels of employees.”
Addressing risk quicker
Management can also monitor more closely whether mandatory activity or checks have been completed – without waiting for the end of the shift, or even until the following day.
“In mining, managing risk is core to our business and information on potential risks needs to be shared as soon as possible if we want to address them,” he says.
“Information received a day late might mean that it is too late to secure a safe result.”
Schultz highlights fall-of-ground risks as one of the most significant hazards in underground mining operations. The faster sharing of more detailed data between the miner, shift boss, safety officer and management can lead to quicker response times and enhanced safety levels on this front.
“The beauty of smartphone technology is that employees across all levels of skill and seniority are familiar with it, so there are few technical barriers to taking up the benefits offered by these opportunities,” he says.
“Of course, there will always be some resistance to changes in the way we operate, but any improvement quickly catches on when employees see the benefits.”
Learning from incidents
He also emphasises the value gained by learning from ‘high potential incidents’ which may have had more serious safety impacts under different conditions.
While incidents with actual severity have been traditionally tracked and analysed, there is now an appreciation of what lessons can be learnt from a less serious occurrence.
“Working with the Minerals Council and our mining clients, we participate in sharing this valuable knowledge on high potential incidents, all of which contribute to achieving Zero Harm,” he says.
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Schultz concludes that safety is an outcome of the inputs that mining companies and their contractors make. The training, tools and equipment that are provided – combined with the systems that are put in place – all create the foundations for a good outcome in terms of safety.
“It is clear that the mining sector is working smarter in its efforts to drive the Zero Harm objective, and this demands that we continue to share our learnings with each other,” he says.