The theme for this year’s upcoming Mine Occupational Health and Safety Summit is “Every mine worker returning home unharmed every day – striving for zero harm.” Inspiring words spoken by the Minister of Mineral Resources, Adv. Ngoako Ramathlodi, reinforcing the need to protect our miners and to provide them with the safest possible workplace environments.
Mining contributes 9% of South Africa’s GDP, and makes up 33% of the country’s exports, so ensuring the safety of the massive labour force behind this is a key consideration for sustainable industry. “Because of the sheer size of the workforce, Unions and their influence are critical to enforcing health and safety regulations in the sector,” says Leon Rossouw, Divisional Executive and Senior Vice President for Mining, Metals and Minerals at Marsh.
The recent 5 month Platinum strike saw 70000 workers get behind AMCU. The writing on the wall could not be more clear in terms of the incredible power the Unions wield. While labour relations remains key to ensuring South Africa as a safe place to invest, a solid partnership between Unions and Employers needs to be set in stone to ensure South Africa is a safe place for miners to work.
“It is essential that employers enjoy the support of the Unions when safety is at stake. Worker’s rights are paramount for the Unions but when Employers institute disciplinary action against workers creating unsafe conditions, the Unions should support Employers,” says Rossouw. “If this is not happening, we will not see a further improvement in accident statistics in SA. It is also the duty of the Union to discipline their members and not only the duty of the Employer to provide a safe working environment.”
Speaking at a recent Mining Industry event in Botswana, Rossouw highlighted key issues and risks the Mining Industry is facing both in Southern Africa and the rest of the continent and how companies can best navigate and manage these risks. Due to the nature of the rapidly evolving needs of the Mining sector, traditional risk models are progressing to keep up with shifts in climate change, disruptive new technology, economic stability and supply of resources like electricity and water.
Ultimately, Rossouw says, a successful risk management policy is really dependent on partnerships, from the ground up. He is quick here to reference the Institute of Risk Management of South Africa (IRMSA) guidelines developed for the SA market, in particular the set of 21 questions developed to measure the maturity level of a company’s risk policy. These questions, he says, should be considered by every risk manager and discussed with the members of the Risk and or Audit Committee at Board level.
One particular question, however, stands out: Are the response measures for critical risks observed consistently at all levels in your organisation? “Deeds need to match words,” says Rossouw, ”there’s no point in having a policy that says safety is our first priority, when managers and shop stewards walk past an unsafe work area without lifting an eyebrow.”
For safety regulation to be effective, transgressions in adhering to these need to be dealt with equally as harshly by both Unions and Employers. In many cases, disciplinary measures could mean termination of employment, and Unions protecting employees from losing their jobs when they have put themselves at risk is counterproductive for all.
To manage risk effectively, you have to have a risk management philosophy in place and create what Rossouw calls a risk culture. “Do you have documented procedures to respond to the various types of risk,” he asks. It is impossible to take a proactive approach to managing risks or to delegate responsibility for implementation if risk responses are not properly documented. The process of documenting responses provides an ideal opportunity to seek the Union’s buy-in that the responses are reasonable and practical to implement.
The trend shows that risk management has been elevated to a level where it has an actual impact on how companies cope with disaster. Ensuring you have the right plan in place is key. Many Insurance Advisors will guide a Company into an insurance buying rather than a Risk Management Philosophy, so it’s important to speak to a Risk Advisor who can guide you to tailor the best solution for your long term needs.
In closing Rossouw invited Mining Companies to contact Marsh if they would like to have access to the Maturity Measure Questionnaire developed for IRMSA.