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Murray & Roberts Cementation raises the bar on mechanised mine training

Underground mechanised mining trainee with VR set

Murray & Roberts Cementation's virtual reality-based training

18th March 2024

By: Marleny Arnoldi

Deputy Editor Online

     

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Mining contractor Murray & Roberts Cementation on March 14 hosted a media tour of the mock-up mine and training facilities at its Bentley Park Training Academy, in Carletonville.

The site is recognised as a world-class skills development facility for supervisors, operators and engineers involved in mechanised underground mining.

The training encompasses the full value chain of mechanised mining, with trainees typically starting with e-learning and theoretical work before moving to virtual reality exercises, emergency drills and real machine operation in underground simulated conditions.

What distinguishes the Murray & Roberts Training Academy (MRTA) from that of others in the industry is its training of novices, which caters to the 50% local employment requirement that mining companies often have to adhere to.

Murray & Roberts Cementation education, training and development executive Tony Pretorius tells Mining Weekly that locals employed at a mine site often have no experience or skills in underground mechanised mining, which the training academy’s seasoned experts are well equipped to remedy.

With grant funding from the Mining Qualifications Authority, Murray & Roberts Cementation has provided training to 3 500 unemployed youth, which Pretorius considers a valuable contribution to alleviating youth unemployment in the country.

He explains that the facility trains students, employees from mining companies or private individuals, according to their experience levels and skills needs.

The MRTA also prides itself on upholding utmost stringent safety standards throughout every module and stage of training it offers, which is evident in its 13-year record of no lost-time injuries.

Murray & Roberts Cementation itself has an eight-million fatality-free shifts record.

While real machinery is used for training in the mock-up mine, laser lights are used on the rock face for simulated blasting practices, as are alternative gel-based products mixed to mock emulsions used for blasting.

The mock-up mine accurately simulates real underground mechanised mining conditions, specifically board-and-pillar operations. It also features painted geological conditions to teach learners about risky strata control scenarios and solutions.

The instructors at the facility often host “reflexive” learning sessions whereby learners evaluate solutions for “what if” scenarios when conditions go awry underground, such as ventilation issues, gas leaks, fires or rock falls.

Pretorius says the facility also places emphasis on developing “silent competencies” such as heat endurance, calm demeanours during an emergency, workplace appreciation and machine appreciation to avoid premature failures of machinery and maintain high levels of productivity.

The facility’s holistic training experience, including accommodation, a wellness clinic, meals and behavioural guidance, ensures trainees can be enthusiastic and able to focus on the tasks at hand.

The facility can accommodate 450 trainees at a time, but currently has 320 trainees on site.

Pretorius highlights that the facility operates on a nonprofit basis, with funds generated only to cover costs. The bulk of the facility’s budget is provided by Murray & Roberts Cementation.

INNER WORKINGS

Pretorius emphasises that the mock-up mine sharpens underground mechanised mining skills more than a virtual reality training scenario ever could, given that there is more of a sensory experience involved that simulates real-world conditions.

He also believes this method of learning teaches learners to respect the environment in which they operate and give due regard to the potential dangers around them.

The MRTA first opened its doors to training Tier 1 mining company employees using more traditional underground mining methods, but gradually evolved with the help of international expertise to offer a wider mechanised mine training solution.

The academy acquired redundant mining machines and rebuilt them for its training purposes. It has also evolved to appoint only subject matter experts as instructors and trainers and other industry stakeholders to keep abreast with latest mechanised mining research and development.

The academy determined the need for a more realistic learning experience and invested R36-million to develop a mock-up mine at Bentley Park. The mine comprises a 3.5-m-high structure covering 1 125 m2.

Pretorius points out that the pressurised production environment of a real mine is often not the ideal location to train novices, rather, the mock-up facility provides a lower-cost learning environment without hindering production and compromising safety.

The mock-up mine provides the sensory experience required for developing muscle memory in the real-life workplace, using drill rigs and bolters, as well as machinery for loading, hauling and dumping blasted rock.

The learners experience the full value chain of mechanised mining activities, from waiting place meetings, entry exam and safe declaration through to face preparation, marking, drilling, charging, blasting, installation of support and cleaning of blasted rock.

Pretorius says the training academy follows a situational leadership model which places considerable value on learner participation in activities, to entrench their applied competence.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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