Surface miners developing remote environmental audits - Aspasa

18th June 2021 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

Planning is under way for members of surface mining industry association the Aggregates and Sand Producers Association of Southern Africa (Aspasa) to deliver detailed environmental audits remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic that may be extended beyond the lockdown if required.

“Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions played a role in the redesign of the audits, which has led to the widescale acceptance of remote online meetings and opened the door for new ways of doing things.

"These online methods will almost certainly be used as one of the methods to assist members to comply with environmental requirements in future and is one of the methods we want to adopt to demystify the subject of environmental management,” says Aspasa director Nico Pienaar.

The audits are being carefully designed by technical experts and industry team leaders to deliver conclusive results that can be trusted by all concerned. They will be easier to undertake and will be more interactive by requiring the quarry manager and other members of the team to be involved alongside the environmental officers, the association points out.

The new focus will ensure the quarry or operations manager knows what is happening on site. It will require the manager to do a presentation to the evaluator, or auditor, and discuss requirements of the individual site.

They will check the basic requirements such as that each operation must have an environmental management programme, social and labour plan and water licence, besides others.

It was found that, in many cases, environmental documents had been developed by external consultants, often costing companies large sums of money, while the manager on site did not have much knowledge about it.

“The problem identified as a result, was that communities began approaching operations with threats, demands and misinformation requiring the manager to be fully versed on these subjects in order to defend the operation,” says Pienaar.

“Likewise, if the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy and [the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment] visits an operation, the manager should be able to show inspectors required documentation and guidelines, and support this with a full presentation that has been checked by the evaluator for compliance.”

A test of the remote audits conducted at an existing quarry was successful. Two training sessions on Microsoft Teams will be held in July to share some of the work and preparations to be done in planning for audits in 2022.

“We plan to make the audits easy to comply with and want to meet our members on their terms when it is convenient for them. Whether onsite or online, we want to gain the full support and understanding of quarry managers for the process of complying with environmental management requirements,” Pienaar notes.

Aspasa says it has been at the forefront of introducing mandatory annual audits to ensure its members comply with all relevant legislation and meet the association’s own code of practice.

However, changes in environmental legislation and increasing community awareness of environmental matters have prompted the association to shift away from rigid audits and move towards inclusive methods to ensure better results.

“In the past, the problem was that auditors would be rigid, find fault, criticise and make managers scared of the auditing process. During the Covid-19 lockdown period, the issue of how we look at this subject matter came under the spotlight and we strove to rationalise how to tackle the problem in a new way.

“We want everybody in the mine to know what the environmental requirements are rather than just the environmental officers. By changing the way we do things, and by allowing members to engage our auditors on their own terms, it will make for a more comfortable interaction and encourage the quarry manager and staff to be involved,” Pienaar says.