With new technologies, increasingly stringent legislation and statutory compliance matters, education has become essential in surface mining operations, says Aggregate and Sand Producers Association of Southern Africa (Aspasa) surface mining director Nico Pienaar.
Modern surface mines require employees to have a good educational foundation, which can be advanced through on-the-job vocational training to improve the mine’s operational performance, he explains.
“With qualified, up-to-date personnel managing and operating every aspect of the mine, the chances of success are greatly increased, turning marginal mines into profitable ones, and average mines into great ones.”
Pienaar says Aspasa is actively assisting the opencast mining industry with training aimed at the ongoing development of workers in the industry. Initial education must embrace elements such as technical, health and safety, and management and environmental training. In addition, Aspasa’s ongoing vocational training is more focused on specific elements of opencast operations.
The initial education of a trainee is an essential part of the induction process, where trainees are given “a feeling for the industry and for their employer”. Trainees are also given sufficient technical knowledge to understand the complexities of surface mining processes and monitor and control the use of an opencast mining plant, Pienaar adds.
“They may also receive training on management techniques to assist in supervision. Knowledge of hazards in the industry and the organisation of safety within the unit are another priority area which requires environmental training,” he point out. Additional training, however, is subject to the requirements and technical needs of the opencast mine and its operations.
Some training courses offered by Aspasa include issues relating to blasting, crushing, equipment, in-pit best practices and road transport. The association’s courses outline the safe, sustainable and profitable operations of the opencast mine and are presented by experienced industry professionals. The courses also assist members with compliance issues and merge with Aspasa’s two audit programmes, which cover health and safety, and environmental standards.
Community Reputation and Education
Pienaar emphasises that Aspasa wants to encourage surface mine and quarry management to look beyond their boundaries, towards surrounding communities and the general marketplace. “They need to invest substantially more in maintaining a good reputation and good public relations.”
As such, Aspasa suggests that the next phase of training be directed towards projecting a professional, trustworthy image, as well as dealing with stakeholders. This includes pressure groups and surrounding communities.
“The treatment of public relations purely as a marketing exercise is not enough and stakeholders must be dealt with in a professional manner.” Pienaar explains that the mine must prove that it is a “good neighbour and a professional corporate citizen” . He highlights that it is vital for a mine to be seen as having a respectable management team and a competent workforce, which is more likely to attract long-term community support.
Regarding management education and training, Pienaar laments that the industry has concentrated on treating the symptoms, “giving priority to the warts while the cancer has gone unchecked”. He states that training courses’ environmental content has also tended to be reactive, with problems taking priority rather than the ways of mitigating or avoiding them.
Subsequently, Pienaar says the South African mining industry’s approach to community relations has ranged from being defensive to being defeatist. “Perhaps, we have too readily slipped into the trap of regarding the community as ill-informed and their protests unreasonable, and resorted to emergency countermeasures, assuming that their protests will blow over.”
In recent times, however, Pienaar says, Aspasa has begun to inform the South African mining industry and members of the public of the importance of surface mines and quarries. In addition, the association has shown how its members are industry leaders in terms of safety, health and environmental matters.
“This has led to a more positive perception and image of the industry as a whole. All we need to do now is ensure that members are suitably trained to uphold this image,” Pienaar concludes.