Sibanye-Stillwater Safety
A mine worker putting on his protective personal equipment

A ‘series of unfortunate events’ in 2018 saw Sibanye-Stillwater’s safety record performance for the year deteriorate relative to its previous five-year history.

In order to re-energise the awareness and focus on safety, it implemented a number of new safety initiatives, some of which, may benefit the broader South African underground mining industry as well.

LAURA CORNISH spoke with Dr KOBUS DE JAGER, group head of safety about delivering on the company’s safety objectives through a variety of exciting new safety initiatives.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 2, 2019

Sibanye-Stillwater’s safety performance in the first half of 2018 dropped relative to previous years, primarily due to the deaths of twelve employees in two isolated events.

Following Sibanye-Stillwater’s unbundling by Gold Fields in 2013, there was a noticeable improvement in the safety performance of its gold operations, which prior to these events, remained relatively consistent.

We should also acknowledge the South African gold sector as a whole has made dramatic improvements in both fatality and lost time injury frequency rates in the last decade and should be praised for this,” De Jager begins.

Nonetheless, De Jager points out that the safety and wellness of its employees is the first priority for Sibanye-Stillwater, and the lives lost due to these and other tragic events, caused significant trauma throughout the company.

Notably however, the company regrouped and tackled the problem head on with the assistance support of its stakeholders.

Today the impact of these efforts is clearly evident, with a number of notable safety milestones achieved, including a record of five million fatality-free shifts recorded by its South African operations on 10 January 2019. (It will take 1 000 people working 365 shift per year each without a fatality, about 13,5 years to achieve 5 million fatality free shifts.)

This milestone shortly follows the Group (including its United States PGM operations) achieving five million fatality-free shifts on 4 January 2019.

“We would like to thank our 70 000 employees and contractors, and all our other stakeholders who have enabled us to reach these significant safe production milestones,” said Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman.

These encouraging achievements reflect the renewed intensity and focus on safe production, which amongst other initiatives included the adoption of the “Sibanye-Stillwater ‘Zero Harm’ framework”, which was jointly developed together with of the input of organised labour and the Department of Mineral Resources through a series of safety summits.

These unique multi-stakeholder safety summits contributed towards the development of a revised safety strategy, focusing on three critical strategic thrusts: creating an enabled environment, developing empowered people who make values-based decisions and institutionalise and utilise fit-for-purpose systems in order to progress towards achieving zero harm for as long as possible.

The immediate action plan

Sibanye-Stillwater’s immediate safety action plans following the fatal incidents undeniably contributed to achieving the milestones. In outlining the plan, De Jager notes that these comprised both short-term and long-term strategic interventions.

The short-term interventions, entailed immediately closing the affected shafts to conduct the necessary investigations. Other short term interventions included ‘Safety Day’ stoppages; additional capacity building of safety representatives and shift bosses; the introduction of a dedicated anonymous safety hotline; cardinal rules that should not be transgressed; 90-day intensive care sessions including intensive communication with all supervisory levels; Visible Felt Leadership and crush Interventions; mass meetings with all shifts and cross audits, amongst others.

 “This was an acknowledgement of our responsibility to our employees and gave us the opportunity to remind them of the priority we place in our C.A.R.E.S (commitment, accountability, responsibility, enabling and safety) values.”

The long-term strategic objectives require a new approach in order to ensure that every employee returns home safely every day. This three to five-year strategy incorporates the outcomes of the tri-partite summit and the safety summits.

A series of work streams and action plans were defined and agreed by the stakeholders, all driven by value-based decisions, De Jager emphasises.

He notes the strategy involves the adoption of a model incorporating the three pillars, which embraces the goal of zero harm, institutionalising it, systemising it and humanising/empowering the workforce and then making the model fully operational.

Taking safety initiatives to the next level

  1. Establishing a global safe production advisory panel

Another longer term safety initiative identified in 2018, was the formation of a global safe production advisory panel (GSPAP) and in mid-January the company announced the establishment of the GSPAP, consisting of a group of leading academics who will be chaired by De Jager. “Our inaugural meeting will be held in South Africa in February,” De Jager confirms.

The GSPAP ‘s mandate is to provide international insights, best practices and expertise in continuous advancement of safe production mining practices.

The five external members include: −

  • Prof Priscilla Nelson, Department Head: Mining Engineering, Colorado School of Mines (USA);
  • Prof Neville Plint, Director, Sustainable Minerals Institute, University of Queensland (Australia);
  • Prof Jürgen Kretschmann, President, TH Georg Agricola University of Applied Sciences (Germany);
  • Prof Ian Jandrell, Dean: Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa); and
  • Mr Vic Pakalnis, President and CEO, MIRARCO Mining Innovation, Laurentian University (Canada).

“The mining environment is a dynamic environment and we will continue to adapt and innovate in order to continually improve our safety performance. We are honoured to welcome the five distinguished academics who have agreed to serve on the safety advisory panel and look forward to their sage and esteemed input. The advisory panel is an acknowledgment of Sibanye-Stillwater’s commitment to safe production and underpins our stated purpose that our mining improves lives,” Froneman stated.

  • The creation of a virtual centre of excellence

Another unique initiative Sibanye-Stillwater has taken to ensure ongoing and current awareness of best practice in the industry by tapping in to the global pool of mining knowledge, is through the establishment of a virtual centre of excellence.

This entails inviting institutions from around the world to regularly showcase new safety advancements and incorporating relevant solutions into the business De Jager explains. In the past six months Sibanye-Stillwater has received 19 positive responses from universities around the globe and has begun to facilitate active engagement with those who have viable solutions to offer.

“Our intention is to commercialise the chosen solutions/technologies and thereafter share our learnings and positive experience with the industry. Those submissions which we’ve received to date offer significant collaboration opportunities to bring new safety initiatives to our mines.”

“Ultimately, while we must acknowledge that there is no silver bullet in safe production, we must work to ensure our mines are structurally sound and that our employees’ perceptions and behaviour towards safety are optimised,” De Jager notes.

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