The Minerals Council South Africa, and its member companies, remain unwaveringly committed to ensuring every mineworker returns home unharmed every day through the goal of zero harm, says Minerals Council safety and sustainable development head Dr Sizwe Phakathi.
In terms of safety performance, the mining industry in 2020 recorded 60 fatalities, compared with 51 fatalities in 2019. While year-to-date figures are not finalised, the current trend is a regression since the 2019 record. As of September 23, 2021, 40 fatalities have been reported compared with 32 during the same period last year.
The causes behind the regression are being evaluated by the council and other industry stakeholders.
“The year 2019 remains the safest year ever in the history of the South African mining industry with 51 fatalities. However, 51 fatalities are still too many. Our goal remains zero fatalities,” says Phakathi.
He adds that the council believes it is possible to achieve the goal of zero harm across the industry, especially with some mining companies being fatality free for long periods of time.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on the industry, the full extent of its impact on safety has not yet been studied. However, Phakathi notes that preventive measures, such as isolating and social distancing, and other changes related to work schedules, number of employees at work, frontline supervision, absenteeism, fatigue, mental health and wellness in general, may have had an impact on the day-to-day running of mines.
Phakathi explains that the pandemic forced the industry to evaluate how it functions and where it can improve to allow for a continued successful transition to the “new normal”.
While the Minerals Council, and the industry as a whole, has been vigilant in responding to the pandemic, there is still significant focus on achieving the goal of zero harm and prioritising the safety of employees.
The Minerals Council’s Kumbul’ekhaya – an Nguni word to remember home – strategy on health and safety prioritises a holistic approach towards the elimination of fatalities and improved safety and health.
Through Kumbul’ekhaya, the Minerals Council has implemented initiatives that address frequent fatality causes. The major contributors to mine fatalities are fall-of-ground (FoG) and transport incidents.
“Over 20 of the fatalities incurred last year were FoG-related fatalities, caused mainly from our hard rock mines that are using narrow reef, conventional methods. These are labour-intensive gold and platinum mines,” explains Phakathi.
FoG is divided into two categories, namely gravity-induced FoG and seismic-related FoG, or rock bursts. Over the years, there has been progress in reducing seismic-related FoG. Last year, many FoG fatalities were gravity-induced, caused during underground barring work, installing support, rock drilling, entry examination, work area preparation and cleaning, among others.
Through various initiatives, there has been improvement over a number of years in FoG-related fatalities. Such initiatives and practices include the Minerals Council’s Mining Industry Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) Leading Practices Adoption System, the use of nets and bolts, early entry examination and making-safe procedures, and trigger action response plans (TARPs).
Early entry examination and making-safe procedures involve a team-based system that identifies unsafe work areas. If the team identifies something unsafe, a TARP is instigated, which refers to escalating and making sure the concerns are addressed. Barring involves the detection of loose rocks.
Despite the various initiatives, Phakathi acknowledges that there has been a stagnation in reducing FoG fatalities. The Mineral Council’s CEO Zero Harm Leadership Forum has and is continuing to evaluate and discuss safety-related updates as a means to address the stagnation and reduce fatalities.
“It’s a forum of CEOs that meets every quarter to reflect on safety, share best and leading practices, identify pockets of excellence, and come up with initiatives that can accelerate our journey to zero harm,” elaborates Phakathi.
In response to the stagnation, the CEO Zero Harm Leadership Forum tasked the Minerals Council’s Rock Engineering Technical Committee (RETC) to develop an action plan on how to go about eliminating FoG fatalities. The committee deliberated on that in partnership with other experts from the South African National Institute of Rock Engineering (SANIRE), the Association of Mine Managers of South Africa (AMMSA) and the South African Collieries Managers Association (SACMA).
Together, the committee and SANIRE presented an action plan to the CEO Zero Harm Leadership Forum on July 2, with a set of recommendations relating to six pillars. The pillars are as follows: adoption of leading practices; research and development; skills development; policy issues; behaviour, culture and operational discipline; and lastly, implementation and monitoring.
The Minerals Council also intends to start yearly ‘Days of Learning’ in the industry led by the Minerals Council in partnership with various industry associations such as AMMSA and SACMA. Other collaborators include the council’s RETC, and other stakeholders at the Mine Health and Safety Council, from government and organised labour such as trade unions.
“In safety and health, we don’t compete. We are all united in saving lives,” says Phakathi.