Shaft sinker is proud of its safety record

28th February 2003 By: marisa rodrigues

Mining contractor Shaft Sinkers has been on site at AngloGold’s R3,8-billion greenfields mine, Moab Khotsong, near Orkney, in the Free State, since work first began in the early 1990s.

The company sunk the main shaft to its initial depth (77 level) and then, more recently, sunk the subvertical ventilation shaft. Both were sunk with its unique shaftsinking jumbo drill, which it developed together with Atlas Copco during the early 1980s.

The equipping of the subvertical ventilation shaft started in June and it is expected that it will be commissioned early next month.

According to Shaft Sinkers MD Peet Nel, the contractor is negotiating a partnership with AngloGold to do all the development work at Moab Khotsong for the next three years.

This will involve the tunnelling to the reef from the subvertical ventilation shaft. (Shaft Sinkers was responsible for all the associated tunnelling from the main shaft.) The company has about 400 employees on site at the mine, although at the project’s peak it had some 1 100 people on site.

Nel describes the safety record at the mine over the last two years as remarkable.

The lost-time injury rate (LTIR) at Moab Khotsong has decreased from 3,51 in 1997 to 1,4 today.

He ascribes this to the leadership of Moab Khotsong GM Danie Spies and the strategic focus of the contracting company on safety.

“Our objective is not to be the biggest contract mining company in South Africa, but rather to be the safest and the most effective, and we have structured our company accordingly.

“In the current marketplace, in which there is rapid development in the contracting industry, it is very easy for a contracting company to overextend itself.

“This can unfortunately result in the company running into serious safety problems,” comments Nel.

Shaft Sinkers launched a new safety programme earlier this year, which is currently running at Moab Khotsong, as well as at AngloAmerican’s Black Mountain lead- and zinc-mine, in the Northern Cape, at Lonmin’s Eastern platinum-mine, in the North West Province, and at Palabora mine, in Limpopo.

Known as the behaviour-based safety programme, it is an attempt to change the negative human behaviour contributing to accidents on the mine.

The programme is based in the concept that an employee is responsible for his or her own safety as well as that of fellow employees.

As part of the programme the buddy-buddy concept was developed, which workers have reportedly reacted well to.

It involves mineworkers identifying ways they are most likely to be injured at work, and to commit to looking out for and avoiding unsafe behaviour, as well as unsafe behaviour of colleagues.

“Instead of focusing on the accidents, we have shifted our focus to the human behaviour that causes them, and it is this fundamental shift in focus that is making the difference,” observes Nel. Shaft Sinkers is also the only mining contractor in South Africa with a fully-fledged training centre where its employees are given safety, technical skills and quality training.

“We pride ourselves in our safety and believe we have the best safety record in the country,” states Nel.

Over the last ten years the company has seen dramatic safety improvements year on year, LTIR dropping from 4,5 in 1997 down to 0,87 today.

This is quite an an achievement, considering that as many as 98% of the firm’s employees work in high-risk areas.

The company’s objective is to achieve an LTIR of 0,8, which is way below international standards – the Ontario Benchmark standing at 1,3.

Shaft Sinkers has its ISO: 9001/2 accreditation and is expecting to be given its ISO 14001 environmental listing soon.

The company is also in the process of obtaining its OSHAS 18001 safety listing.

Last month it was awarded the Chamber of Mines Five Star Honours award for safety.

This is the eleventh time it has received this award and the tenth time in succession.

Shaft Sinkers was, until last year, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Anglo American.

Following the holding company’s decision that it was non-core business it was sold to UK company Amco Investments, which now owns 80% of the shares, with the other 20% owned by company employees.

Since its establishment more than 40 years ago, Shaft Sinkers has sunk about 155 000 m of vertical shaft throughout South Africa and the rest of the world, including Vietnam, the UK, Indonesia, Canada, Brazil, Bolivia,Tasmania and numerous countries in Africa.