Mining contractor Concor Opencast Mining has added a new layer to an already strong foundation in its health, safety and environment (HSE) strategy as the world adjusts to new operating procedures under the Covid-19 pandemic.
Concor Opencast Mining HSE and training manager Niel Fourie says there has been a significant shift in focus in HSE management, and the company’s entrenched HSE quality management systems enabled a fairly seamless adaptation to the rapid changes brought about by Covid-19.
Had this not been the case, the company would have struggled to insert additional complex layers in already high-risk industries, namely construction and mining, where the potential for risk and injury are significantly higher than in other industries.
“We pride ourselves on running a tight ship on HSE,” he tells Mining Weekly, noting the company’s ISO 9 000, ISO 14 001, ISO 18 000 and ISO 45 001 certifications and lost-time injury-free status for the past six years.
This had helped the company during the uncertain periods when projects and operations had to be halted “on a dime”, tactics quickly changed and the reopening or the partial reopening of operations on short notice with enhanced government-directed regulations.
Crew and staff had to be limited, time-consuming client and employee re-onboarding had to take place and workplace safety needed to be maintained, while companies implemented Covid-19 mitigation procedures and aligned with governmental lockdown regulations.
This placed significant pressures on business across the board, as many operated “in the dark” in a sense, he says.
“Above all, we were not certain how the pandemic would impact us. Were it not for our strong systems, we would not have mitigated this as well as we did.”
Concor also centralised its personal protective equipment (PPE) purchasing power as prices for equipment surged and products were becoming increasingly difficult to source.
“As PPE was difficult to source, we moved purchasing centrally to obtain the quantities needed [amid] the exorbitant prices for the PPE that we normally bought on a regular basis,” Fourie comments.
Further, as Concor Opencast Mining weathered the storm, the first Covid-19 positive case was reported at its head office, highlighting that, while extensive planning was in place, there remains a significant amount of uncertainty to be managed, particularly around fear.
“We had to mitigate fear as we worked through contact tracing risk assessments in an objective manner. This also helped us communicate knowledge from top to bottom.”
Compliance with wearing masks and sanitising hands, besides others, remains high.
Maintaining compliance auditing procedures during the lockdown period proved to be challenging; however, the company successfully mitigated it as demonstrated by a recent audit which was completed remotely.
Concor could conclude its remote auditing processes through video meeting platforms and other technology as well as had leverage its share point document warehouse systems.
“We could track compliance through remote audits, augmented through videos and photographs, that helped us maintain the compliance [requirements] and [provided a] performance overview,” Fourie highlights.
About 75% of an ISO recertification audit undertaken in the first week of October was completed remotely, with just one site visited to finalise the audit.
“It has changed the way we do things.”
While audits are easier on site, with limitations on videos and photos, it opened a different avenue for Concor Opencast Mining in terms of compliance reporting and oversight.
From a training perspective, the company changed gears and re-evaluated certain training procedures, adopting digital platforms and incorporating a blended training approach.
“The pandemic forced us to use technology. It is changing the way we are doing things and is providing us the opportunity to evaluate as well as experiment,” he says, noting the unseen benefit of the restrictions in that it presented an opportunity for a review, revision and remodelling.
“We saw the benefit of that within the audit,” he concludes.