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Safety Remains The Highest Priority

The mining industry experienced and reacted to the coronavirus pandemic in several ways. By Rodney Weidemann.

In the mining industry, which is predicated on large groups of people working closely together in enclosed spaces, the impact of COVID-19 has been felt in many ways.

James Wellsted, senior vice president for investor relations at Sibanye-Stillwater, says that the mining industry’s response to COVID-19 has been both proactive and engaged.

“The risk posed by COVID-19 was promptly prioritised and an executive coronavirus steering committee formed. A high-level, three-pronged approach was adopted. Firstly, we developed and implemented protocols, procedures and systems to measure and identify the risks,” he explains. “Secondly, we implemented proactive measures to mitigate the risks, and lastly, we prepared for and have managed the pandemic in a way that is least disruptive to our operations.”

Sibanye-Stillwater further adopted a more gradual, cautious approach to reopening operations after lockdown to ensure the safety and health of employees as much as possible, while sustaining a gradual build-up in operations.

“While there have been considerable upfront and ongoing costs in preparedness for the pandemic, there have also been many positive impacts,” Wellsted says. “These include an accelerated digitisation drive, less corporate travel and more efficient virtual meetings, more constructive engagement with all stakeholders, and closer engagement with government agencies and communities.

“Sibanye-Stillwater is planning for a long road ahead. Although infection rates have dropped dramatically, we will continue to practise all related safety protocols. We offer counselling and psychological support for employees and their families and will continue to support all stakeholders in this regard. The key focus remains on enabling a safe environment for employees by observing key protocols while ensuring the sustainability of the operations to protect livelihoods and employment,” he concludes.

 Zero harm to all

Since its inception, 23 years ago, the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) has conducted over 400 research projects that have contributed to the improvement of the health and safety of mining employees. This has been achieved through development and revision of the legislative framework, training, promotion and knowledge transfer. All of these are steps on the path to the MHSC’s ultimate goal of “Zero Harm”.

To achieve this, the organisation launched the Centre of Excellence (CoE) as the first port of call for occupational health and safety issues within the sector. The CoE supports the goal of “Every Mine Worker Returning from Work Unharmed Every Day” and continues to strive for the significant reduction of occupational fatalities, injuries and diseases.

The MHSC has established a fourth industrial revolution (4IR) task team to look into safety-focused technology development, focusing particularly on understanding the impact of technology on people in the South African mining sector.

“Some of the key successes include the appointment of a critical workforce that is currently assisting the MHSC in managing research, through three technical committees. Knowledge transfer and technology transfer, which has significantly improved as research outcomes are released by the MHSC. Various seed-funded projects have also been initiated with MHSC’s research outcomes, aimed at improving health and safety in the mines,” says the organisation’s spokesperson.

“The CoE continues to strive for world-class excellence by investing in knowledge and expanding its stakeholder network to include global partners. Both the MHSC and the CoE will continue working closely with stakeholders to pursue the ideal of zero harm.”

Source: Mine Health and Safety Council

Mine workers wearing face masks arrive ahead of their shift, amid a nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, at a mine of Sibanye-Stillwater company in Carletonville, South Africa, May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

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