South Africa’s diverse wealth of minerals and a well-regulated mining industry mean mines employ hundreds of thousands of mineworkers from all over Africa, states miner, refiner and marketer of platinum-group metals Impala Platinum (Implats).
As a major employer in the industry, Implats has a strong stance on safety, which is the cornerstone of its focus across all its operations – the company is committed to promoting a culture of safety and mitigating any safety risks.
Through Implats’ vision of zero harm the company strives to cultivate a mind-set among all its employees and stakeholders that safety needs to be respected and prioritised above all other tasks.
“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 group executive Dr Jon Andrews.
He explains that it is important to recognise the safety achievements and milestones reached across most of Implats’ operations.
“During the 2016 financial year, for example, gold ore mining company Zimplats – a member of the Impala Group - celebrated five-million fatality-free shifts, joint venture between African Rainbow Minerals (51%) and Implats (49%) Two Rivers achieved three-million fatality-free shifts, Rustenburg’s 20 shaft and 11C shaft each achieved two-million fatality-free shifts, while six other shafts achieved one-million fatality-free shifts.”
Addressing Human Failure
However, the company’s analysis of fatal and lost-time injuries demonstrated that human failure remains a contributing factor. To address this, Implats’ priority remains on driving the “person and behaviour” pillar of its safety strategy, with the aim of creating the right safety culture to achieve and maintain zero harm.
Implats promotes Section 23 of the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA), which empowers employees to withdraw from the workplace if there is a perceived danger to their health and safety.
“A core goal of our safety strategy 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. Any Section 23 withdrawals are captured onto our systems and reported on in the same way as any Section 54 Department of Mineral Resources stoppage, to ensure that the risk is addressed and closed out,” says Andrews.
He adds that Implats also expects all employees to adhere to Section 22 of the MHSA, which requires employees to take care to protect their own health and safety and to care for the health and safety of others.
Implats’ executives, with the support of union leadership, drive the group’s overarching objective of developing a safety culture among employees.
“We remain resolute to see a further step change in our safety performance and, ultimately, achieve our goal of zero fatalities. This means effective visible leadership and demonstrating visible personal commitment,” says Andrews.
Every team is also supported by an elected part-time safety representative in 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.
He further enthuses that by June 2016, 5 245 employees – who were elected as part-time safety representatives – had undergone training.
Implats’ team-mobilisation training is 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 – with 12 people in a team – have completed the training and Implats continues to train 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.
“These have been rolled out requiring pledges from employees to adhere to these sets of safe behaviours. Training and monitoring programmes aimed at encouraging the adherence to the critical behaviours have been implemented,” Andrews adds.
Three-Pillar Safety Strategy
Implats’ safety strategy has three main pillars – person and behavior, systems and practices and the physical environment, Andrews explains, noting that each of these is underpinned by an accompanying set of action plans. The strategy is informed by external and internal reviews of safety systems, safety culture and by a continual analysis of the root causes of all lost-time and major loss potential incidents.
The ‘person and behaviour pillar’ is focused on ensuring each employee has the right skills, teamwork, knowledge, motivation, attitude and ability to perform their work safely and achieve zero harm.
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 close out identified safety risks. Line managers are responsible for following up and closing out issues identified by these audits and stop notes.
“A pilot IsoMetrix safety inspection system is in the process of being tested at Impala Rustenburg 16 shaft and safety officers are using the system to capture all inspections,” Andrews points out.
Zimplats and mining company Mimosa are already OHSAS 18001 certified while Impala and the Marula mine, located in South Africa, are targeting the new ISO 45001 certification by 2018.
“Independent consultants recently completed a detailed gap analysis of the occupational safety and health systems at these operations to identify potential compliance gaps, which are now being addressed to ensure certification,” states Andrews.
Implats, he adds, has identified the major hazards at its operations and has control standards for each. Implats has also identified material unwanted events.
“The group is following International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) practice guidelines to develop a critical control management system to ensure line management maintains focus on the specific controls to prevent these rare, but potentially high-impact, events,” Andrews says, explaining that Implats also has a Triggered Action Response Plan, which focuses on recognition and response to hazards associated with ground conditions and ventilation.
Meanwhile, the ‘physical environment’ pillar of Implats’ strategy aims to ensure a safe physical environment, reducing risks through appropriate equipment, engineering, planning and design.
“Good progress has been made with implementing technological safety initiatives over the past three years, 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,” Andrews elaborates, adding that a major focus going forward is front-drive technology and proximity detection on track-bound equipment.
To ensure the underground mining environment is safe and accommodating for women, he adds that a women in mining safety forum has been implemented at Impala Rustenburg.
The forum, he explains, 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 [resulted in] a PPE code of practice for the safety of women. The forum will continue to introduce initiatives aimed at improving the safety and security of women working underground.”
Over the next year, Andrews notes, each operation is expected to achieve at least a 20% year-on-year improvement in its lost-time injury frequency rate performance in support of the Mine Health and Safety Council’s Safety Milestones.
“Implats continues to target zero fatalities across all operations and the group will continue to encourage its employees to achieve our vision of zero harm,” he concludes.