Arjen de Bruin,
Operations Solutions
MD, OIM International
8 February 2012 – Addressing low productivity levels, which is costing the local mining industry billions of rands every year in lost revenues, is critical if South Africa is to capitalise on the opportunities that global resources currently present.

This is the view of Arjen de Bruin, Operations Solutions MD at OIM International, who says that productivity in South Africa’s mining industry is being negatively affected by poor safety practices, high staff absenteeism, equipment breakdown, poor equipment maintenance and shortage of skilled staff.

"Addressing these issues for sustained productivity requires South African mining houses to enforce a carefully structured production management framework that monitors and maintains high productivity levels, reduces costs and maximizes available resources," he says.

According to De Bruin, the financial rewards for doing this can be significant. "For example, a local mine we have worked with in implementing such a framework, has experienced increased revenue of R469 million over a seven month period, largely as a result of improvement productivity levels," explains de Bruin.

De Bruin says a major barrier to South Africa’s mining productivity is safety standards on mines. "Fatalities and injuries on mines are increasingly resulting in costly down time while investigations are conducted – often running into millions of rands for the mine operator and the industry," he says.

According to a recent announcement by the National Union of Mineworkers, last year there were 120 fatalities on South African mines and ten more so far in 2012, which clearly highlights the need for renewed focus on safety on the mines.

"While training, safety procedures and working practices are important, the key to improving safety for miners lies in establishing and maintaining a culture that maintains safe behavior. Therefore management needs to ensure consistent and effective communication and engagement channels to help workers achieve the right mindset and embed the right safety behaviors."

He says another crucial issue to address on mines is the amount of downtime caused by the breakdown of machinery and equipment. "Mining houses should be looking to achieve a balance of approximately 75% planned maintenance and 25% equipment breakdown.

However, most mines are not achieving this – for example, one of our recent clients they were running on a ratio of 45% planned maintenance to 55% equipment breakdown.

De Bruin says in order to reduce down time it is important to schedule planned maintenance checks where staff are monitored to see if they are using the equipment correctly, as well as check that equipment is running effectively.

High absenteeism levels are another major challenge affecting productivity. De Bruin says mine-managers should aim to reduce absenteeism to no more than 3%. "It is also vital to ensure that staff are multi-skilled to cope with absentees and enable the mine to still match the required output," he says.

According to de Bruin, mine management needs to ensure not only that they have set the right production standards for staff, but that these standards are communicated to employees and that performance and behavior are frequently reviewed in structured team meetings.

"It is also necessary that leaders and their teams anticipate potential obstacles and decide on appropriate action plans to deal with these – thereby engaging all employees to improve productivity," he says.