Safety management remains a key challenge for mining companies. A regression in safety performance, mainly through accidents related to seismic activity, has been recorded for the first time in a decade in South Africa.
The Minerals Council South Africa (Minerals Council) is deeply concerned.
According to Dr Sizwe Phakathi, head: safety and sustainable development at the Minerals Council, the regression in fatalities is largely as a result of seismicity related accidents occurring in South Africa’s underground gold mines.
He states that by the end of 2017, 88 fatalities had been reported. The first six months of 2018 paint a bleak picture – 58 fatalities have been reported thus far.
This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 9 2018
“Mining cannot be sustainable if our colleagues are dying in our industry. Therefore, we have to prioritise the safety of our miners throughout our operations,” stresses Phakathi.
He puts forward that in order to move towards more sustainable mining and the creation of a safer working environment, a leading practice adoption process is required.
This would involve identifying, documenting, demonstrating and facilitating widespread adoption of leading practices with the greatest potential to address the major risks in safety areas such as falls of ground and transport and machinery-related accidents.
Driving safety from the top down is also equally important in improving safety.
The Minerals Council has established the “CEO Zero Harm Forum” initiative which comprises a CEO task team from various companies who are encouraged to ‘Walk the Health and Safety Talk’.
In 2012, the then Chamber of Mines established the CEO Zero Harm Forum to visibly lead by example, to drive health and safety initiatives and to share experiences to help address key challenges in a manner that will enable the industry to achieve the 2024 milestones and accelerate the industry’s journey to zero harm.
He explains that key components of this strategy are the demonstration of industry leadership at CEO level; sharing company experiences and helping each other deal with and solve key challenges and establishing working protocols with industry stakeholders.
Included within the priority achievements to date is the development and management of critical controls for fatal health and safety risks, with a now increasing emphasis on controls that are higher up the hierarchy of controls; and instilling a culture transformation in the industry that will change the behaviour of people at all levels to enhance their compliance and agility for change.
“The CEO Zero Harm Forum encourages CEOs to work together with our tripartite stakeholders in government and organised labour to accelerate initiatives that could improve safety performance,” emphasises Phakathi.
Areas of concern
In order to contain and improve chances of seismicity-related incidents specifically, the Minerals Council, along with stakeholders and the CEO Zero Harm Forrm, have invested in seismicity related research with the Mining Health and Safety Council (MHSC), which have presented positive results in terms of better mining methods, how to increase efficiency and also how miners can increase their own safety as well.
In addition, Phakathi mentions that another area of concern is the necessity to mine deeper, which poses more challenges.
However, he adds that the Minerals Council and other industry leaders have since formed a new task team whereby existing knowledge is collated in order to share ways to bridge the gap and inform the industry on how to improve the management of seismicity related incidents.
“We are also collaborating with the MHSC and Council for Geological Sciences (CGS) invest in training future seismologists.”
Phakathi states that much has been achieved in recent years, with employers, labour and government working together to protect the safety and health of all mine employees.
“However, one death is still one death too many and as a result the Minerals Council and MHSC in place to ensure that the 2024 milestones are reached,” he concludes.
In the next coming months, the tripartite industry stakeholders will be holding a biennial Mine Health and Safety Summit where progress against the 2024 milestones will be reviewed and gaps identified.