The mining industry has long been plagued by mining disasters, accidents, and occupational diseases. This holds for all mines across the world and South Africa has certainly had its fair share of incidents. There have been many initiatives and drives to reduce the number of incidents and fatalities by various departments and groups, with varying rates of success, but we do not seem to be able to keep the numbers down and it is proving costly.
The cost of incidents in mining:
The costs of these incidents are very hard to quantify due to the complexity of the cost compositions. Each incident comprises both direct and indirect costs over a period of time following the incident (downstream costs) and not all may be included in the final estimation. Furthermore, the indirect vs direct costs ratio has been likened to an iceberg, with the bulk of the indirect costs being hidden.
The cost of incidents may be broadly categorised as:
Cost to employees
responsibility of the family in the case of a deceased employee
Loss of future earnings
Cost of human suffering
Other miscellaneous expenses
2. Cost to society as a whole,
The direct or indirect incident related costs e.g. worker’s compensation fund
Injured or deceased workers not being able to contribute to the economy
3. Cost to employers
Direct or indirect losses (real or opportunity losses)
Direct losses are perhaps the easiest to measure and include lost planned reserves; lost sales; property damage repair and replacement; lost-time salaries; penalties; to name but a few. Indirect costs include reputational harm; decreased productivity; decreased morale; insurance deductibles and all the time spent with incident-related meetings, investigation, reporting, and mitigation. Therefore, one cannot simply see the statistics as mere numbers but rather look at the cost of these incidents in their entirety and come to the realization that we must do better.
Incidents in South Africa 1999 – 2022
While the number of injuries and fatalities had been steadily decreasing over the last century, 2020 and 2021 have seen an uptick in injuries and fatalities. This is despite all efforts to reach the seemingly elusive zero-harm vision subscribed to by South African Mines. The below interactive graphs illustrate these increases clearly.
Figure 1: Fatalities in South African mines (1999 - 2022) Interactive charts created using Ariscu Insights.
Figure 2: Reported injuries in South African Mines (1999 2022). Interactive charts were created using Ariscu Insights.
Figure 3: Fatalities by cause in South African Mines (1999 - 2022). Interactive charts were created using Ariscu Insights.
Interaction with the above graphs shows that this had been true across all commodities, resulting in the Minerals Council Board agreeing to the urgent implementation of eight measures in December 2021.
Increased visible leadership presence at mining operations;
Stopping unauthorized and uncontrolled access to old mining areas that are not routinely mined, and effectively and rigorously conducting risk assessments and implementing controls where work in previously mined areas is routinely undertaken;
Quality and scheduled maintenance programmes instead of opportunistic and ad hoc maintenance arising from production pressures;
Deploying competent and skilled employees in areas of high-risk work to provide adequate supervision, oversight, and risk assessment of that work;
Undertaking quality and scheduled controls monitoring to prevent falls of ground, transport-related accidents, and inundation of working areas;
Ensuring that incentives and bonuses for miners do not compromise their rights to stop or refuse unsafe work;
Implementing sufficient fatigue breaks and monitoring; and
Conducting phased onboarding after the holiday period of employees to ensure they are in sound physical and mental health.
These eight measures vary in complexity and some may seem difficult to achieve, but can also be seen as measures that should already be in place in a robust occupational health and safety management system. Guidance for such a system is conveniently provided by the ISO 45001 standard. Similar to the ESG movement, compliance with this standard (or even certification) should not be seen as a nice-to-have for a social license to operate or for the appeasement of investors and other stakeholders, but rather as a must-have for the reduction of the risk of losses. Certification is assurance that you are doing what it takes to keep your employees and your business safe from harm and improve in that practice continuously.
Prescriptions by ISO 45001:
If we look at some of the eight proposed measures, it is easy to find their counterparts in the standard:
Increased visible leadership presence at mining operations is covered in the standard by Clause 5 - Leadership and worker participation. Those in leadership roles should participate in the formulation of the organisation’s OH&S policies and demonstrate commitment to these to the OH&S Management system. This is a responsibility that should not be left to one or a few, but we need strong leaders to drive the organisation to participate and to take responsibility and accountability for their own and others’ safety and in implementing the policies.
Quality and scheduled maintenance programmes instead of opportunistic and ad hoc maintenance arising from production pressures are covered definitively in clause 8.1.1 which speaks to operational control processes: c) establishing preventive or predictive maintenance and inspection programmes. This measure is also covered in part by clause 220.127.116.11 (Hazard identification) as it stipulates that a hazard identification process should be established that includes hazards arising from product and service design, research, development, testing, production, assembly, construction, service delivery, maintenance, and disposal. Once a hazard has been identified, so can the necessary steps to prevent, or mitigate, that hazard.
Deploying competent and skilled employees in areas of high-risk work to provide adequate supervision, oversight and risk assessment of that work has been catered for in clause 7.2 (Competence), where (b) states ensure that workers are competent (including the ability to identify hazards) on the basis of appropriate education, training or experience. This should not be a reactive measure in areas of “high-risk” work, but rather in all areas.
Undertaking quality and scheduled controls monitoring to prevent falls of ground, transport-related accidents and inundation of working areas; Implementing sufficient fatigue breaks and monitoring; and Conducting phased onboarding after the holiday period of employees to ensure they are in sound physical and mental health can also be addressed under hazard identification and mitigation. Fall of ground and transport-related incidents (as illustrated by Figure 3) are major causes of fatalities in mines in South Africa. We know the hazards, we do the mitigatory actions. Why do they not work? The ISO 45001 standard specifies in Clause 9 that an organisation should evaluate the performance of their OH&S Management system and the effectiveness of their operational controls.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Clause 10 of the standard calls for Continual improvement. Not only should incidents be dealt with thoroughly (including the identification of new hazards that may have arisen during actions taken), the organisation should aim for the continual improvement of their OH&S performance and the promotion of a culture that support the management system and the improvement thereof.
If the specifications of this standard are implemented and adhered to wholeheartedly and with rigour, improved safety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the vision of zero harm more within our reach.
By René Schobermayr, Key Accounts Manager, Ariscu
Mine Industry Occupational Health and Safety: https://www.mosh.co.za/downloads/ohs-data
Preis, E.P. and Webber-Youngman, R.C.W. 2021 Identification of cost factors relating to mining incidents. Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, vol. 121, no. 1, pp. 39–46.