Health And Safety In The Spotlight

SA Mining recently caught up with Minerals Council South Africa spokesperson Charmane Russell.

Given that health and safety remain a key consideration for all mining houses, SA Mining recently caught up with Minerals Council South Africa spokesperson Charmane Russell to unpack the initiatives aimed at improving health and reducing fatality rates at South African mines.

Are miners investing adequately in making health and safety improvements at their operations?

Mining companies invest significantly in safety and health both directly in their own operating environments, and also centrally and collaboratively with the Minerals Council, through the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC), and the work being done by the Mandela Mining Precinct.

The safety, health and well-being of mining employees are integral components of the day-to-day operations of mining companies. Achieving zero harm, where every employee returns from work safely and in good health at the end of every day, is the industry’s ultimate goal.

Historically, falls of ground have been the major source of fatal accidents in our deep-level mines – mostly gold and platinum. Joint industry efforts have focused intensely on falls of ground in deep-level mines over several years. Through the MHSC, significant resources have been invested and far-reaching research has been done to address this. Over R150-million has been invested in falls of ground research and more than R250m has been spent on research into the seismicity associated with our deep-level mines. A further R40m has led to new mine design methods.

How is technology assisting with improved health and safety?

A key driver of modernisation is emphasis on zero harm while the investment in new technology is one of the fundamentals of mine safety.

Mining is still largely labour-intensive, and fully automated mining may still be some way off. However the focus is on people-centred technologies. For example, the Minerals Council has partnered with the Research Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (RIIS), an independent innovation firm, to design a new hand-held rock drill that is lighter, more ergonomic and precise.

Other technologies include mechanised drilling and blasting as well as non-explosive rock breaking, aimed at reducing underground accidents as far as possible, and other ways to remove miners from working-face dangers.

A wide range of technologies is used to reduce and prevent incidents related to health and safety. These initiatives have led to the development of early warning systems for seismic activity and rolling stock. In consultation with the industry, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has also developed a pedestrian detection system that uses a range sensor to determine the distance to each identified person, and tracks each person to determine if and when a collision may occur. The CSIR has also been exploring the development of the “monster” – a robot platform with safety inspection sensors that can enter mines when it is unsafe for people to do so. The robot will assess and identify risks for underground mines, and reach areas that are inaccessible to people during an incident.

With the advent of Industry 4.0, has there been much sharing of information on technology between mining and other industries?

In February 2019, the Minerals Council participated in the MHSC-organised workshop on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Mandela Mining Precinct, launched in May 2018, is a public-private partnership in which government and the Minerals Council collaborate. It is the industry’s innovation, manufacturing and sustainable development centre.

The Mandela Mining Precinct is actively working to modernise the industry, and has been guided in its endeavours by many researchers and innovators from a range of industries.

Additional partners involved in the precinct include Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa, the Mine Ventilation Society, the Geological Society, the CSIR, the MHSC, Coal-Tech, and research institutions at the universities of the Witwatersrand, Pretoria, Johannesburg and South Africa.

Can you give us an idea of how the mining industry has been faring in terms of safety for the first half of the year?

No fatality is acceptable. But we have seen an improvement.

* As at 19 August 2019, there were 29 fatalities across the mining industry compared to 56 fatalities experienced over the same period in 2018.

* There has also been an improvement in the number of injuries across the industry with 1 483 injuries reported as at 19 August, compared to 1 586 over the same period in 2018 – a 6% improvement.

* These figures are unofficial figures as the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is the keeper of official safety statistics and announces these at the beginning of each year.

Where are the areas of most notable improvements?

In terms of health, a momentous development has been the R5-billion settlement of the silicosis and tuberculosis class action between six current and former gold mining companies that are Minerals Council members.

The settlement trust fund will be established, following the approval by the High Court of the settlement on 26 July 2019, and once certain other legal conditions are fulfilled.

Latest data from the regulator and the MHSC show significant improvements in health outcomes in terms of silicosis and other occupational lung diseases, and TB.

The Masoyise iTB campaign, in which the Minerals Council is participating actively along with other stakeholders, is making progress in improving the frequency of screening and testing.

Is there a relationship between deep-level mining and increased fatality rates? And does the exit of deep-level gold miners from South Africa signal possibly improved health and safety statistics?

It is true that seismicity is associated with deep-level mining. In 2017 and 2018, the industry experienced a spike in seismicity-related accidents. In response, with the support of the CEOs, the Minerals Council intensified its focus on critical engineering controls to effectively address the causes of these events. A set of rockburst leading practices has been identified for sharing with all companies involved in deep-level mining. The Industry Ground Control Framework has been implemented in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga mining regions.

This Minerals Council initiative complements those of the Department of Mineral Reources, Mining Qualifications Authority, MHSC and South African National Institute of Rock Engineering that are aimed at combating seismic and gravity-induced fall of ground accidents.

In addition, two task teams on rockfalls and rockbursts have been established to identify possible solutions to address seismicity challenges, in partnership with the MHSC and research institutions.

What are key concerns that the MSCA is flagging with regard to mining and health and safety? What is the way forward, do you think?

Although the causes of accidents, injuries and fatalities may vary, falls of ground, transport incidents and general accidents are the three primary causes of injuries on mines.

A particular concern during 2018 was the number of disasters that occurred in the mining industry where a significant number of lives were lost.

This challenge further increased the need to improve zero harm efforts by all stakeholders.

The MHSC successfully hosted the 2018 Mine Occupational Health and Safety Summit which formed part of the tripartite approach to safety and health.

Some of the key discussion areas included the right to refuse dangerous work, falls of ground rock bursts, fires and explosions, noise-induced hearing loss, the Culture Transformation Framework, TB and HIV. The outcomes of the summit will be made available by the MHSC.

The Minerals Council launched the National Day of Safety & Health in Mining 2018 under the slogan: Safety and Health, First, Always and Every Day, with the hashtag #ZeroHarm.

The launch signalled the start of a month-long initiative by member companies to recommit and reaffirm the industry’s commitment to safety and health, particularly the MHSC milestones.

Are there any lessons that South Africa can take from other mining jurisdictions?

A culture of learning lies at the heart of the industry’s quest for zero harm.

At a local level, findings are shared, the outcomes of which have provided greater insight and guidance to all on the way forward, and these learnings are being shared across the industry.

Furthermore, the Minerals Council’s Learning from Incidents Working Group has developed an information-sharing repository that will enable companies to share flash reports and videos on high potential incidents (HPIs) and successful investigations to ensure that mining companies effectively learn from one another to avoid repeat events.

What initiatives have recently been rolled out?

In 2012, the Chamber of Mines established the CEO Zero Harm Forum to acknowledge the value of leading by example. The first focus area was on fall of ground – the greatest contributor to fatalities at the time.

In November 2014, the MHSC’s principal tripartite stakeholders (government, unions and the industry) launched a Centre of Excellence to conduct world-class research, build research capacity and facilitate the implementation of research outcomes.

The National Day of Safety & Health in Mining campaign, launched in 2018, fulfilled the objectives of the annual company health and safety days outlined in the Tripartite Pledge signed in November 2016. The pledge declared a set of actions aimed at improving the industry’s occupational health and safety performance by changing behaviour and improving the organisational culture of safety in mining operations.

In January 2019, the CEO Zero Harm Forum held a half-day facilitated health and safety event called “Heartfelt Conversations”, to deepen leadership engagement about the industry’s safety and health matters. As a follow-up, the CEO-led Strategy on Health and Safety has been developed which includes an implementation plan aimed at achieving a step change in safety and health performance in the industry.

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