Owing to the mining industry having historically gained a reputation for being “inherently unsafe”, consulting engineers need to be more mindful of this aspect when working in the sector, says professional association Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) CEO Christopher Campbell.
He tells Mining Weekly that consultants’ oversight has to be broadened with more sensitivity to health and safety.
“As there is an explicit emphasis on zero harm in the mining sector, consulting engineers in mining have to conform to industry requirements. The work you do cannot be done without specialist health and safety practitioners on board,” he adds, noting that focusing only on the work specifications may increase exposure to risks in the construction process.
Campbell highlights that while consulting engineers generally offer multidisciplinary services, a number of Cesa’s members have a significant focus on mining. This has prompted the association to strengthen its relationship with mining industry organisation the Minerals Council South Africa to the benefit of Cesa members.
“The idea is for Cesa – through the Minerals Council – to share the value proposition of ensuring that mining companies work with credible, capable companies that are actually in the business of consulting engineering when developing their mines,” he says.
This, he believes, will ensure quality delivery of the mine design and construction processes.
Cesa’s strengthening of this relationship will, subsequently, ensure better relations between mining companies and consulting engineers, Campbell points out.
“Our aspiration going forward is to entrench the use of Cesa’s members in the mining sector’s broader perspective because Cesa members can deliver quality and professional workmanship for mining companies, and provide more comfort in terms of delivering quality and professional workmanship.”
However, Campbell notes that in the rare and regrettable instances where this standard of professionalism is not maintained, mining companies can trust Cesa to deal directly with its members. This, he says, provides mining companies with a “much better proposition”, as they would not have to take consulting engineering companies on directly.
“It is more beneficial to deal with the association directly, as we will ensure that appropriate action is taken,” he tells Mining Weekly.
Meanwhile, Campbell points out that while a mining industry ‘sunrise’ is possible in the South African context, industry has to adapt its approach to changing times.
“The sector struggles to attract new entrants to industry, especially women. While women are obtaining the necessary qualifications to work in the field, there is a concern about how women engineers are accommodated in this harsh environment,” he comments.
Further, fluctuating investor sentiment often hampers mining development, which affects, and is affected by, water and electricity supply, as well as road, rail and residential infrastructure.
“Mining development becomes limited when public-sector investment dwindles. The public sector is unable to supply adequate infrastructure at times, leading to mines’ having to heavily invest in infrastructure that would traditionally fall under government’s ambit. It then becomes too expensive and many investors may decide that it is not worth it.”
This means that, in addition to attracting new blood, in terms of women and youth, the industry also needs to find ways of attracting and retaining new investors.
Campbell suggests that increasing emphasis on technology and local beneficiation might attract both groups enabling South Africa to exploit the associated opportunities, thereby tackling its challenges of unemployment, poverty and a lagging economy.