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23 November 2016

A review of the safety successes at Wessels Mine

by Jennifer Cronje and Jaison Rajan Head of HSEC and General Manager Wessels Mine respectively, Manganese South Africa, BHP Billiton

SYNOPSIS


Wessels Mine experienced 2 fatalities in a short space of time one in November 2010 and another in February 2011, this following from what was thought to be a relatively stable safety performance. Wessels embarked on a comprehensive culture change initiative, using BHP Billiton values as the platform.

Wessels mine achieved 299 white flag days (without any injuries) on the 30th July 2013 and has achieved a record of 445 recordable injury free days on the 31st July 2013.

Post the fatalities, Leadership undertook a critical review of the leadership culture and organisational failures which led to the events. Specific issues identified included:

  • Organisational structure and span of control – Wessels and Mamatwan Mines were managed as one Operating unit, with significant complexity and span of control challenges identified.
  • Organisational culture – Although Safety was always a priority in the mining industry in general and at Wessels in particular, this focus was not aligned to a values approach, and was more compliance based.
  • Safety systems – Key safety systems implemented at Wessels at the time was cumbersome and complex and did not create an enabling environment to reduce risk or drive compliance

To enable an immediate culture change and improve their safety performance, the Wessels Leadership implemented a number of specific and targeted changes in the organisation. The program did not entail the implementation of a new safety program, but rather focussed on:

  • Structuring for improvement – The two mines were split into separate operating units and the implementation of BHP Billiton Operating Model was expedited
  • Leadership behaviour and culture– modelling low tolerance for risk taking behaviour
  • Leadership response to incidents – Driving a reporting culture and immediate response to addressing hazards
  • Simplifying and entrenching existing safety systems

The Wessels approach aligned well with Casey’s model (2012) which proposes 8 behavioural dimensions which would provide employees with safety performance expectations and will increase motivation to engage in safety beyond compliance.

The review of Wessels’ successes confirmed that the 5yr key focus areas for MnSA1 are aligned and will deliver improved safety performance, but specifically the following permanent culture changes need to be effected:

  • Embrace the Operating Model and extracting value from functional excellence
  • Consistently model the desired behaviour in line with values.
  • Maintain the focus on the value of reporting to address gaps as opposed to it being seen as a tool to penalise employees.
  • Simplify and embed key safety systems and extract value from the loop of verification, and gap closure.

The MnSA 5year focus areas are clearly aligned, but in order to achieve sustained improvement Leadership levels at all levels should be aligned, therefore the Leadership development initiative becomes key for MnSA success

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