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Is it possible to reduce the number of accidents in South African mines?

Nelson Broden, associate consultant at Pragma, responds.

Issued by: Pragma  
[Johannesburg, 24 February 2012]

What are the key factors in minimising the risk of accidents in mines?

Mining companies really don't want to have any accidents. They preach the story, they put it up on billboards and I truly believe they mean every word of it. The Mine Health and Safety Act also prescribes regulations that need to be followed in order to minimise risk. It all comes down to implementing standard operating procedures and business processes to ensure these requirements are completed according to legal prescriptions.

With all the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and business processes in place, the worker still needs to apply common sense in order to identify risk or prevent an accident.

How is productivity affected by following the procedures as outlined in the Mine Health and Safety Act 29 of 1996?

The regulations are written with the safety of the worker in mind, and not necessarily the productivity of the mine. Some legal requirements can be very time-consuming and will definitely affect productivity. Conveyors would be a case in point. The Act currently states that safety devices must be tested weekly. Most mines have many kilometres of conveyors, so to test these safety devices on all of the conveyors within a week calls for increased manpower or a decrease in production time.

How much time is generally lost by following these procedures? How can mines overcome this?

The fact is mines have to follow the procedure. It is a legal requirement. Mines must make sure they know exactly what needs to be done and how long it will take, that the worker is trained to perform the tasks to the specification of the Act, and that work is properly planned and scheduled. Only the combination of these items will ensure efficiency. It will allow the mine to plan their production schedules more accurately, as well as transport and resources.

Is it easy for mines to follow/enforce the regulations as outlined in the Act?

The Act clearly states what should be done, and thus is pretty easy to implement. The problem lies with the lack of resources, and the time it takes to complete the tasks specified in the Act. Many mines do not have sufficient technical resources in order to complete the tasks in the required maintenance time, and therefore start to eat into production time. It sounds like a simple calculation in order to motivate for more people, but information is also scarcely available at many mines in order to quantify budget requirements.

How can mines motivate staff to follow these procedures?

Staff members need to do the necessary tasks correctly. Firstly, they need to ensure they have the correct set of tasks. An asset care plan development process can stipulate, step-by-step, how tasks should be developed and what information is needed. This eliminates any subjectivity and standardises the list of tasks. Secondly, they need to ensure the tasks are done right. This means they must be planned and scheduled to be completed at the specified time, by a trained person, the quality of the work must be sufficient, and the feedback of the work completed must be documented. This can be done through implementing a work planning and control business process and managing it on a weekly basis. Training and buy-in from staff to these processes, as well as the content and importance of the Act, will motivate them to follow the procedure. At the end of the day, it will save them time and keep them safe.

How will training reduce the risk of accidents?

Training helps the mine worker to identify possible risks and manage those risks in a safe manner. Training with regards to the Act, as well as the SOPs and business processes that support the Act, should be done frequently.

Who is ultimately responsible for the loss of life at mines?

Each mine has several responsible employees, including foremen, supervisors, section engineers, engineering/mining managers and ultimately the general manager. They all take loss of life very seriously and have a responsibility to prevent it. If an accident and/or loss of life occur, an investigation to determine the person responsible for the incident will be launched. The engineer with a Government Certificate of Competency is usually responsible for his staff.

How can Pragma and physical asset management assist mining companies and employees to minimise the risks related to health and safety at mines?

Pragma has a set of business processes that can be customised to suit the needs of each mine. These will ensure the correct planning and work is done with regards to health and safety. Asset Care Plan development will help mines to ensure that the right tactics are in the correct format, and that legal tasks are included. Pragma can also assist to ensure these tasks are correctly captured in the computer maintenance management system (CMMS) used at the mine. Work planning and control can help mines to plan and schedule properly, in order to get the legal work done in time, and capture feedback that enables the mine to easily get information for audit reasons on legal tasks. Apart from these two mentioned business processes, there are several others that will assist with productivity, information accuracy, reporting, and more.

How can mines and physical asset management companies such as Pragma provide effective monitoring and enforcement of health and safety conditions?

I believe that in some mines there is a gap between the health and safety departments and the actual mining departments. I believe that the health and safety executive (HSE) departments can play a more important role to audit the Act and advise on additional tasks to be included in planned work. This in-house audit of information can show shortcomings and list potential risks proactively. The mines or Pragma can also report on the legal tasks to indicate if they were done on time or whether more staff or time is needed to complete them.

Mines know the Act inside out. Unfortunately, planning and scheduling offices are not always properly staffed, and maintenance management systems are not always used effectively. Pragma can assist with this through our Asset Care Centre, where we take control of the work planning and control and utilise the mine's system to its fullest potential or run our own world-class On Key on top of the client's platform.

Editorial contacts
Pragma
Liza Burger
(+27) 21 943 3900
Liza.Burger@pragmaworld.net