Surface mining association Aspasa director Nico Pienaar tells Mining Weekly that the surface mining industry currently faces many challenges that need to be addressed so that mines can achieve the ultimate goal of zero harm.
These include illegal mining not being adequately addressed by the regulator, the slow pace of infrastructure development and the misinterpretation of Mining Charter III.
He states that these factors, combined with the “long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic”, will take a toll on the industry.
An increasing number of illegal mines are being allowed to operate unchecked, while the complex, and often unattainable, requirements of the licensing process means that smaller operations often need assistance to comply with legislation, Pienaar explains.
“This assistance is often not accessible to the smaller operations, and herein lies Aspasa’s value, in terms of our role to assist in legalising mines.”
However, he adds that the undertaking is often laborious, with numerous certificates and audits required before the certification process can start.
This process includes training, health and safety audits, environmental assessments, government licensing approvals, technical and social compliance as well as black economic-empowerment requirements.
Pienaar also notes that the slow pace of infrastructure development hinders the workflow of the association’s member companies.
“This means companies often have to resort to creative ways in which to keep the business afloat,” he adds.
Meanwhile, Mining Charter III “plays a rather large role in the interpretation of legislation”, and its implementation by smaller mines. Pienaar adds that associated issues, such as communities, skills training and labour, are not adequately addressed.
Pienaar expects the entire mining community to be affected by Covid-19, locally and globally. However, he is cautiously optimistic, adding that, “hopefully, after this lockdown, there will be more work for legally compliant surface mines in South Africa”.
A lesser known – but equally important – challenge for surface mines is the pedestrian-related accidents on site.
Pienaar states that although Aspasa members have not registered a fatality in the past five years, it is still a matter of concern for surface mines.
Current legislation relating to pedestrian detection systems is more applicable to larger surface and large underground mining operations. Pienaar points out that smaller operations are being affected as companies battle to comply with the current legislation.
“The need for a more appropriate legislation has been realised but still needs to be addressed”.
The new legislation is not only financially too demanding but also irrelevant for smaller operations.
Subsequently, the association has formed a subcommittee with 37 participating companies, the University of Pretoria and Minerals Council South Africa to find workable solutions.
Pienaar says the work to date has primarily focused on the development of appropriate plans, risk assessments and the development of technologies to suit the needs of this particular segment of the industry.
Current legislation relating to pedestrian detection systems is more applicable to larger surface-mining and large underground-mining operations. Pienaar points out that smaller operations are being affected as each operation battles to comply with the current legislation.
“The need for a more appropriate legislation has been realised but still needs to be addressed.”
“Our work has, therefore, focused on finding solutions that will work for us. We have already identified challenges, not the least of which is the complexity of collision avoidance systems and potential costs.”
Pienaar notes that the subcommittee has “hit snags” in obtaining permission to use pedestrian detection systems equipment on different original-equipment manufacturers’ (OEMs’) machinery.
There has also been some difficulty with some mines’ understanding of Section 21 legislation, as well as “a general lack of commitment” towards the implementation dates, in addition to other compliance issues.
Many OEMs are uncertain of the possible liability and have legitimate safety concerns regarding the stopping interventions for vehicles moving faster than
10 km/h. Many are focusing on the International Council on Mining and Metals 2025 target dates for fully integrated OEM solutions, rather than the local legislation’s deadline, owing to South Africa’s technologies not being fit for purpose just yet.
Industry may also be misrepresenting information in terms of risk assessment or the lack of effective risk assessments, says Pienaar. Pedestrian detection systems are required only where a risk of a pedestrian collision exists. This means that effective risk assessments and mitigation interventions may deem the installation of such devices unnecessary in situations where pedestrians and traffic are separated or where proper traffic management plans are implemented and properly managed.
There also seems to be a general unpreparedness among miners, pedestrian detection systems suppliers, OEMs and other role-players in terms of implementing pedestrian detection systems solutions in time to meet the legislative deadline.
Pienaar concludes that every surface mine site is different and, therefore, requires that these measures be put in place with the involvement of all the stakeholders concerned.