Over the past few years, the mining industry has often been heavily criticised for its apparent inability to avoid fatalities among miners. Yet in some cases, enormous strides have been taken to protect workers...
Anglo American Thermal Coal Division has implemented safety control programmes that have shown very positive results in reducing fatalities, if not eliminating them completely. “Even one fatality is one too many,” said Philip Fourie, head of safety and sustainable development (SSD) for Anglo American Thermal Coal Division, at the recent Saiosh annual conference in Midrand.
Fourie is a Chartered Member of Saiosh and member of the Anglo American International Safety Board and serves as a member of a number of boards governing SSD matters in the mining industry.
Saiosh Chartered Member Philip Fourie addressing delegates at the 2016 Saiosh OHS Conference in Midrand
“Through some carefully managed programmes, Anglo American Coal has reduced fatalities from 76 in 2000/01 to only two in 2015/16,” said Fourie.
A major change in the traditional labour-intensive mining environment is that it has become much more mechanised.
This has reduced the number of miners – Anglo American Coal has almost 9 000 employees, while contractors number over 6 000 giving a total headcount of more than 15 000.These workers have now become exposed to the dangers of working in a highly mechanised environment.“Traditionally, the most frequent injuries were caused by hazard agents such as tools, equipment, materials, slipping, tripping, falling, hands/fingers being caught or pinched in moving machinery, and falling or flying objects.
As a result, safety attention was focused in these areas. The fatalities were, however, caused by electrical accidents, fires, explosions, fall-of-ground and transportation-related incidents,” said Fourie.
On closer examination, it became clear that a new focus was required to overcome fatalities – it required a new mindset.
A number of safety programmes were introduced over the years, but the most significant – and effective – was the Fatality Elimination Framework introduced in 2013. With leadership focus and endorsement, this programme created a strong, determined and very visible focus on high-level risk management.
“The risk-management approach received much attention and was examined in detail. It became clear that change management was also required, including detailed processes, tools and techniques focusing on high-level risks, as well as routine and non-routine task planning,” said Fourie.
Technology would be brought in to support the framework. One example was a large investment in sensor systems installed on moving machinery and vehicles. If a worker approached the machine, it would slow down. If the worker moved too close, the machine would stop or shut down.
“Another new approach was to encourage managers and supervisors to leave their desks and inspect the work areas to identify potential risk situations and create control procedures,” said Fourie.
“This included entering into discussions with the on-the-ground workers to understand the problems and dangers they faced on a daily basis. We call that ‘listening to the voice of experience’. The results have been very positive in making the workplace a safer place,” he added.
Another aspect of this approach was to encourage management to develop a preoccupation with failure and to “worry constantly”, as well as to match that to a determination to detect, or anticipate, potential failures or dangers. This developed an ability to minimise the impact of unexpected events.
So, it would appear that some members of the mining community are taking their ”protector” role seriously indeed.