Safety is a priority at all Impala Platinum’s (Implats’) operations, emphasises the South African platinum miner, which will roll out front-drive technology and proximity detection on track-bound equipment in 2017 as part of its safety strategy.
The company describes the initiative as a “major focus” going forward, with trials conducted at two sites.
Stressing its commitment to promoting a culture of safety and mitigating any safety- related risks, Implats adds that through its vision to achieve the Chamber of Mines- and Department of Mineral Resources-agreed ‘zero harm’ goal, the company strives to cultivate a mindset among its employees and stakeholders that safety needs to be respected and prioritised above all other tasks.
Implats reported two incidents this year, namely the shaft fire at its Rustenburg 14 shaft in January, where four miners perished, and the fall of ground incident at Shaft 1 in May, where two miners were reported missing and were subsequently found dead. As of November, there have been no other reported incidents or casualties.
“Ensuring the safety and health of our employees, contractors and suppliers is essential to respecting their most fundamental rights. “Implats’ safety strategy entrenches the belief that mining, including underground mining, can be conducted without causing injury and harm,” explains Implats health, safety and environmental affairs head Dr Jon Andrews.
The company’s safety strategy has three main pillars, each underpinned by an accompanying set of action plans. The strategy is informed by external and internal reviews of safety systems, a safety culture and the continual analysis of the root causes of all lost-time and major loss potential incidents.
The pillars comprise person and behaviour, systems and practices, and the physical environment.
Person and Behaviour
The person and behaviour pillar is focused on ensuring each employee has the right skills, teamwork, knowledge, motivation, attitude and the ability to perform their work safely and achieve zero harm.
“A core goal . . . is to create an ‘interdependent’ safety culture where every employee is committed to safe working practices, taking clear responsibility for their own actions, but also helping others adopt good safety practices,” says Andrews.
The company’s executives, with the support of union leadership, continue to drive the group’s overarching objective of developing a safety culture among employees. This is done through “effective visible leadership” and by demonstrating “visible personal commitment”. Every team is also supported by an elected part-time safety representative with overall responsibility for maintaining safety standards and encouraging safe behaviour.
“Over the last three financial years, these safety representatives have been through an accredited Mining Qualifications Authority training course. By June, 5 245 employees who were elected as part-time safety representatives had undergone training.” adds Andrews.
Implats also has a team-mobilisation training initiative, a five-day on-site course aimed at building trust, enhancing team functionality and committing production teams to action plans and collective accountability for safe production. To date, 316 active teams have completed the training and Implats continues to train a further 245 active teams at a rate of five teams a week.
Further, union health and safety representatives, supported by the company have identified a set of “critical safe behaviours” for the most critical occupations across operations, including rock-drill operators, scraper winch operators, locomotive operators, panel operators and trackless machine operators. A pledge from each employee to adhere to these sets of safe behaviours is demanded. Training and monitoring programmes aimed at encouraging the adherence to the critical behaviours have been implemented.
Every lost-time injury is analysed to determine why behavioural and control failures took place and to determine whether failures or breaches were wilful or not. Wilful breaches of safety standards are not tolerated, Implats stresses, noting that, if incident investigations find that human error was indeed wilful, management is required to initiate disciplinary action.
Systems and Practices
The systems and practices pillar of Implats’ strategy is focused on providing best practice policies and procedures, risk assessments, standards training and safety interactions.
Systems are in place to capture, report and track all leading and lagging safety indicators, and to report, capture and remove identified safety risks. Line managers are responsible for following up and resolving issues identified by these audits and stop notes. A pilot safety inspection software system is in the process of being tested at the Impala mine’s 16 shaft, on the western limb of the Bushveld Complex near Rustenburg, and safety officers are using the system to capture all inspections.
Implats has also identified the major hazards at its operations and has control standards for each of these hazards. Further, Implats has identified material unwanted events. The group wants to develop a critical control management system to ensure line management maintains focus on the specific controls to prevent these rare, but potential, high-impact events.
In addition to the initiatives already described, Implats has a Triggered Action Response plan which focuses on the recognition of and response to hazards associated with ground conditions and ventilation.
The physical environment pillar of Implats’ strategy aims to ensure a safe physical environment, reducing risks through appropriate equipment, engineering, planning and design.
Over the past three years, good progress has been made in implementing technological safety initiatives, which include the provision of self-contained self-rescuers to every underground employee, proximity detection systems on trackless mobile machinery, electronic winch signalling devices, fire-detection systems and shaft safety devices for vertical shafts, explains Implats.
To ensure that the underground mining environment is safe and accommodating for women, a “women in mining” safety forum has been implemented at Impala. The forum meets monthly to identify and address safety and health issues specific to women. This has already improved the availability and quality of specialised personal protective equipment (PPE) for women and has led to the completion of a PPE code of practice for the safety of women.