Health and safety underground: how the mining industry is changing
Health, Security and Safety are always on top of companies’ priorities. For South-African mining companies it’s not just a statement, but a new, joint effort to improve work conditions.
Health, Security and Safety are always a top priority, no matter what the industry. Working with many mining companies in South Africa made us wonder whether they saw this as simply a compliance issue or as a tangible commitment.
Over the last few years, a number of the major companies have realized that they needed a more collaborative approach to address the issue of occupational injury.
Improving safety through training
Mining is one of the main sources of employment in South Africa and in the whole continent. The workforce is, generally, low-skilled and the education system has furthered a poor level of literacy and numeracy (32.7% of the employees have an education level below NQF level 1).
“Providing skills to employees […] contributes towards improving safety and productivity, provides opportunities for personal development so that companies can attract and retain suitable employees.“
South African Chamber of Mines, 2015 skills development fact sheet
Accordingly, the Mining Charter, now demands all mining companies invest 5% of their annual payroll in skills development. Thus training Investment has increased nearly 32% from R3.8 billion in 2014 to R5 billion in 2015.
As a result, the Chamber of Mines of South Africa is also able to report that, while in 2013, over 7,000 employees completed the Adult Education and Training (AET), in 2015 the number of employees attending their programs was below 5,000. The lower number of attendants is a measure of the improvement in the employee skill levels.
Improving safety through organizational change
Mining companies not only have committed to guarantee a higher education level to their employees, they have introduced new procedures to assess risks and apply Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) measures.
BBS uses behavior analysis methods to improve safety performance. Like any other change initiative, the effective application of these methods and procedures requires significant employee involvement.
One of our Mining partners recently reduced the number of safety-related incidents, by focusing on lower level defects and deviations, increasing reporting and leveraging this for organizational learning. This was only achieved by introducing new procedures into the fabric of the organization, whereby risks are assessed on a regular basis, and preventative and protective measures implemented that:
- Eliminate the hazard/risk
- Control the hazard/risk at source, through engineering controls and/or organizational measures
- Minimize the risk/hazard by designing safe work systems that include administrative control measures
- Provide appropriate personal protective equipment and monitor its maintenance, suitability and effectiveness for any disaster or failure of the safeguards.
Engagement once again demonstrated its key role in change. Without leaders sponsoring and planning investments for training employees, there would have been no improvements in safety and security. Also before the training, leaders were actively encouraging, explaining, setting the example and coaching their people; all intended to create the desire to learn how to be safer. Despite initial resistance from miners, the training process has been embraced as a way to feel safer and be more confident about their work routine and their place in the organization.