Global mining contractor and engineering firm Redpath Mining tells Mining Weekly that safety is a pivotal factor in deep-level mining and it becomes even more significant amid the ongoing challenges that exist, as a result of mines having to dig deeper for minerals.
“Underground mining is a highly dangerous and hostile environment and the most important contributing factors are pressure, heat and worker fatigue. It is, therefore, important to create a safe working environment that will reduce these challenges so that mining can continue.
“As the depth of a mine increases, the ground conditions get worse and other problems, such as underground ventilation, arise. Poor ventilation is harmful to underground workers and our job is to provide safety solutions for underground operations,” says Redpath Mining technical services and marketing GM Dirk Strachan.
Redpath Mining is working on the extension of the oil reserves for midtier JSE-listed plati- num company Northam Platinum and on the refurbishing of a mine shaft at dual-listed gold producer Gold Fields’ South Deep mine.
Strachan says that Redpath has been involved in development and decline sinking at Northam Platinum for the past 14 years and, since it has started working on this project, the ground conditions have deteriorated. This required spe- cial attention to the form of support methods that had to be initiated.
Redpath is investigating the mechanical drilling of rock support holes to transport people underground to the surface. As a solution, Northam Platinum and Redpath will buy an automator borehole.
“The shortage of skills has become an ongo- ing challenge. When we began the project 14 years ago, there were enough personnel to carry out the job at hand, but many have since moved to other companies and some have retired. This challenge has prompted us to train and develop our employees who have recently finished grade 12 and who will adapt to the conditions on site and adhere to all safety precautions underground,” Strachan notes.
The South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa) states that underground mining entails labour-intensive activities, such as safe breaking, removing and supporting.
“Saqa mentions on its website that supervisors working underground require sound tech- nical knowledge of the mining process and supervisory qualities to lead the teams involved in all the activities that are directly related to the extraction of rock or mineral,” Strachan says.
Redpath complies with the rational requirements of the mining industry under Saqa. The company is accredited by Saqa to offer the national certificate in mining operations for underground hard rock, national qualification framework (NQF) Level 2.
This, in turn, facilitates access to technical knowledge and skills for previously disadvantaged groups and other learners. These skills and knowledge are required to supervise teams involved in the excavation and removal of rock in underground mines.
The NQF certificate offered by the company enhances the status and employability of the learner within the mining and minerals industry and contributes significantly to his or her work-output quality and quantity. The qualification also furthers learners’ access to information about the South African mining industry and career progression, as well as portability and mobility within and between the different mining operations in the mining and minerals industry.
Further, learners who have obtained the qualification will make a positive impact on the production of minerals, while contributing significantly to society and the South African economy in general, as the mining industry creates opportunities for many secondary and tertiary mining- and minerals-related businesses.
The national certificate in mining operations for underground hard rock NQF Level 2, will enable those who graduate to supervise the teams involved in the safe breaking, removal and support of rock or mineral.
Depending on their learning path and work experience before enrolling for this qualification, a period of practical work may be required before starting with the national certificate in rock breaking NQF Level 3.
An NQF Level 4 qualification incorporates material from sources such as those of NQF Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications, which are then evaluated and discussed to achieve objectives. Activities of team members are coordinated to achieve individual and teamwork objectives. Work outputs of the team are monitored, evaluated and, where necessary, corrected to achieve the desired targets.
The NQF Level 2 qualification is, therefore, a first in a learning pathway of four qualifications for mining operations, which culminates in the national certificate in mining overseeing NQF Level 5 – a qualification series that not only recognises the skills, knowledge and values of a specific workplace but also requires workplace experience.
Saqa states that most of the learners are likely to work in the mining and minerals sector as team members who are involved in underground mining activities.
The authority believes that this learning initiative will give learners an opportunity to balance their practical skills with the essential knowledge needed to earn a formal qualification in the supervision of mining operations.
At the South Deep operation, Redpath was contracted three years ago to refurbish a mineshaft and it has since recorded a 750-days, downtime-free operation. Redpath has assembled a maintenance crew, whose members are dedicated to the job and understand the safety implications that are required.
Strachan concludes that, if mining companies continue to pursue safer operations in the mining sector, productivity in mining will increase.