By Dr Sizwe Phakathi, Head: Safety and Sustainable Development at the Minerals Council South Africa
Day three at Electra Mining Africa 2022 is themed Safety Day with a focus on Occupational Health & Safety for good reason. Safety on mines is vital, and one fatality or one injury is one too many. Dr Sizwe Phakathi, Head: Safety and Sustainable Development at the Minerals Council South Africa, reflects on the first six months of 2022 and supplies the industry with the year-to-date industry performance with particular reference to Fall of Ground (FOG). The highlight – with the industry goal, ‘Zero Harm,’ top of mind – is the fact that gold and platinum mines have been FOG fatality-free up to the end of June 2022, which is a significant win for the industry.
1. Year-to-Date Industry Safety Performance
1.1 Fatalities by industry and commodity
As of 30 June 2022, a total of 23 fatalities were reported in the industry compared to 28 fatalities during the same period last year. This translates to an 18% improvement or reduction in the number of total fatalities compared to the end of June in 2021.
A breakdown by commodity shows that by the end of June 2022, the gold sector reduced the number of fatalities by 23% compared to the corresponding period in 2021, with 10 fatalities reported compared to 13 reported in the first half of 2021. The platinum mines reported 5 fatalities compared to 6 fatalities by the end of June in 2021 (17% decrease), the coal sector reported 3 fatalities compared to 4 fatalities during the same period last year (25% reduction) and there was no change for the other commodities (including diamonds, chrome, manganese, iron ore, aggregate sand and quarries, copper, zinc, nickel, etc.) recording 5 fatalities compared to 5 fatalities during the first six months of last year.
This year’s number of fatalities for the first six months of the year is on par with that of the first six months of 2019 – a year which currently holds the best safety improvement in the history of South African mining.
1.2 Number of total fatal accidents
The year-to-date safety performance trend indicates that up to the end of June, there has been a 39% decrease in the total number of fatal accidents compared to the end of June 2021, with 17 fatal accidents reported compared to 28 fatal accidents at the end of June 2021 (one fatal accident may involve more than one member of the work force).
It is encouraging that the total number of fatal accidents has decreased by 26% in the first half of 2022, compared to the fatalities of the first six months of 2019, again, the best improved safety performance year in the history of the industry.
|Industry fatalities||Industry total number of fatal accidents|
1.3 Causes of fatalities
The leading causes of fatalities reported up to the end of June 2022 were ‘General’ (struck by, falling in, drowning, rolling rock, inundation, mud rush, burning and scalding) at 10 fatalities, followed by ‘Other’ causes with 6 fatalities (electricity, fires, explosives, heat exhaustion, conveyancing and miscellaneous), Transportation and Mining with 5 fatalities, Machinery and Fall of Ground (FOG) with 1 fatality respectively.
Gold and platinum mines have been FOG fatality-free up to the end of June 2022, which is significant for our industry given that the gold and platinum mines have largely been major contributors to FOG fatalities over the years.
2. Injuries by Commodity and Causes
As of 30 June 2022, there were 935 serious injuries reported compared to 1066 during the same period in 2021. This is an overall improvement of 12%.
The gold sector recorded 243 injuries compared to 372 during the same period last year (a 35% improvement which is above the annual milestone reduction target of 20%), the platinum mines reported 490 injuries compared to 512 injuries during the same period in 2021 (4% improvement), the coal sector reported 89 injuries compared to 74 injuries during the same period in 2021 (20% regression) whereas the ‘other’ commodities recorded 113 injuries compared to 108 injuries during the same period last year (5% regression).
Injuries classified under ‘General’ (514) are the biggest contributors to the overall number of injuries reported year-to-date, followed by Transportation and Mining (175), Fall of Ground (128) and machinery (71).
The Minerals Council and member companies are monitoring at risk behaviours, unsafe practices and high potential incidents to proactively prevent catastrophic events such as loss of life and disabling injuries.
3. Encouraging trend in FOG safety performance
During the first half of 2022, the industry has witnessed an encouraging trend in the FOG safety performance with only 1 FOG fatality reported compared to 11 FOG fatalities in 2021, 10 FOG fatalities in 2020 and 19 Fog fatalities in 2019.
The FOG fatality reported this year occurred in a coal mine in the first quarter of 2022. The second quarter of 2022 has been FOG fatality free. The FOG fatal accidents predominantly in deep-level gold and platinum mining operations, and the presence of seismic events increases the risk of gravity-induced and seismicity-induced fall of ground accidents in these shafts. It is for the first time that the industry has achieved this remarkable FOG safety performance in the first six months of the year. One FOG fatality is still one too many. Although the goal is zero harm, the effort of the industry is commendable as it is the first time in 10 years (and possibly beyond this period) that the industry has gone for the first six months of the year with only one FOG fatality as shown in Figure 1 below.
4. Initiatives to Improve Mining Industry Safety Performance
4.1 The Elimination of Fall of Ground Fatalities Action Plan (FOGAP)
In collaboration with stakeholders from government and organised labour, the Minerals Council and its member companies remain unwaveringly committed to the goal of zero harm.
To this end, in 2021 the Minerals Council with the support of the CEO Zero Harm Forum and the board launched the Elimination of Fall of Ground Fatalities Action Plan (FOGAP) with a five-year financial investment of R46-million. The FOGAP initiative was a response to the high number of FOG fatalities in the industry. The analysis had shown that the industry performance on FOG fatalities remained stagnant or plateaued with just over 20 FOG fatalities reported annually in recent years. The industry has been in dire need of a step change to eliminate FOG fatalities. The FOGAP initiative was developed by the Minerals Council’s Rock Engineering Technical Committee (RETC) in partnership with the South African National Institute of Rock Engineering (SANIRE), Association of Mine Managers of South Africa (AMMSA) and South African Collieries Managers Association (SACMA). The FOGAP initiative was also introduced to and received support from the stakeholders at the DMRE, organised labour and Mine Health and Council (MHSC), suppliers, research organisations and universities.
The FOGAP project consists of the following pillars:
|Leading Practices||Minimise rock mass damage:|
|Monitoring drilling quality with technology|
|Use appropriate blast round designs and explosives, e.g., emulsion-type|
|Eliminate risk of working under unsupported rock:|
|Review and revise netting with bolting using Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) areal support selection tool|
|Permanent area coverage in widths <1.2m|
|Improve underground visibility to an appropriate standard|
|Research and Development (R&D)||Barring technology|
|Seismic hazard rating|
|Real-time monitoring of instability|
|Use jigs/rigs for accuracy|
|Challenges with implementation of this plan|
|Skills Development||Updating Rock Engineering learning material|
|Support by mentors, etc.|
|Learning programmes for mining production leadership (e.g., front-line supervisors) on FOG|
|Policy||Engage DMRE to:|
|Fast-track guide for Code of Practice (COP) on geotechnical risk|
|Finalise regulations on responsibilities, etc.|
|Adopt revised South African Mines Reportable Accidents Statistics System (SAMRASS) forms on FOG incidents|
|Enabling Zero Harm Production Behaviour, Discipline and Operational Discipline||Measures to reduce mining cycle time and enable safe behaviour (from Mandela Mining Precinct and others), e.g., faster rock-drills|
|Implementation and Monitoring||Leading implementation: Annual AMMSA-SACMA-led Days of Learning with RETC/SANIRE and others, supplemented with regular sharing of leading practices in all meetings|
|Measure of progress: Consecutive FOG fatal-free hours worked|
|Reporting: Quarterly reporting on implementation by members of Minerals Council|
Significant progress has been made in the various pillars of the Fall of Ground Action Plan (FOGAP). On 18 February 2022, the Minerals Council Board held a special hour of learning with a presentation of two initiatives from the FOGAP that were identified as high potential impact for safety improvement. These were barring technologies and permanent area coverage for narrow stopes. The decision taken by the board was to commit senior production staff from each mining company to form part of a high-level task team to provide oversight and support to these two projects. To this end, a high-level task team has been formed and is in action.
A FOG Day of Learning was held on 31 March 2022 in partnership with the AMMSA, SACMA, SANIRE and RETC. Close to 200 delegates attended, representing a cross-section of stakeholders from the mining industry, including the Vice-Chair of the CEO Zero Harm Forum and MOSH FOG Sponsor, Japie Fullard. The day was designed to give the industry an overview of the FOGAP. Senior members of the industry gave compelling presentations on leading practices and new research projects geared towards accelerating the elimination of FOG fatalities.
As part of the implementation of FOGAP, investigations on the stope lighting practice have been concluded. The stope lighting leading practice will immensely improve underground workplace visibility. The plan is to launch this leading practice at this year’s National Day of Health and Safety in Mining for adoption across the industry.
Transformation of industry safety culture
The Mine Health and Safety Council 2011 Culture Transformation Framework has 11 pillars. For 2022, the Minerals Council is currently prioritising the shift from a blame to a just culture (including learning and accountability) through various interlinked initiatives.
The ‘Independent Peer Review of Incident Investigation and Analysis Systems’ is a project originating from the 2019 Khumbul’ekhaya strategy1 on safety and health. The CEO Zero Harm Forum approved the project to enhance the quality of accident and incident investigations through peer-review methodologies, with a view to share any tangible learnings across industry when possible.
4.2 Collision Prevention System (CPS) technologies
The Minerals Council implemented a special project focusing on industry alignment on the implementation of transport and mobile machinery (TMM) regulations in the second half pf 2020. To address transport related safety, a series of engagements with industry stakeholders including organised labour, the DMRE, the MHSC, suppliers, research institutions and universities have been held since to ensure there is alignment on the holistic risk-phased informed implementation of the collision prevention system technologies by the end of December 2023. It is encouraging that this year, the industry has been fatality free from TMM incidents.2
Rail-bound equipment (RBE) and winch fatalities are of concern and this is on the radar of the Minerals Council Safety Teams. A worrying recent trend has been observed regarding winch related fatalities in the mining industry. The industry has recorded 3 winch fatalities year-to-date (end of June), while 2021 recorded 3 in total.
4.3 2021 MineSafe Conference
On 25 November 2021, in response to the deteriorating safety performance last year, industry stakeholders including the Minerals Council, the DMRE, organised labour, suppliers’ organisations, professional associations, the Mine Health and Safety Council and the Mining Qualifications Authority hosted the MineSafe Conference. The stakeholders re-committed themselves to working towards the elimination of fatalities, injuries, and occupational diseases on South Africa’s mines in pursuit of ‘Zero Harm’ to ensure that each employee returns from work unharmed every day. The commitments agreed to at the 2021 MineSafe Conference would complement and help the mining industry to achieve the 2014 Summit ten-year milestones. The Minerals Council looks forward to the Mine Health and Safety Summit later this year to review progress, successes and challenges in the achievement of the milestones on Occupational Health and Safety.
4.4 CEO-intervention measures
On 10 December 2021, an emergency special board meeting was held after more fatalities occurred following the multi-stakeholder MineSafe Conference held in November 2021. The Minerals Council Board members agreed that this situation was unacceptable and that business-UN-usual CEO-ship, culture transformation and action was necessary. Board members agreed on measures to urgently address the deterioration in industry safety performance. Member CEOs have been facilitating implementation of these measures in operations in different ways based on the risk profiles of the operations.
Beyond the urgent measures aimed at ‘stopping the bleeding’, the Minerals Council Board members fully supported the ‘healing the wound’ MineSafe 2021 Commitments jointly agreed to by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), organised labour, suppliers’ organisations, professional associations, the MHSC and the Mining Qualifications Authority.
4.5 National Day of Health and Safety in Mining
The Minerals Council will commemorate the fifth annual National Day of Health & Safety in Mining on 3 August 2022. This annual commemoration publicly demonstrates the mining industry’s recommitment to the health and safety milestones and the shared imperative of Zero Harm, as embodied in the CEO-led Khumbul’ekhaya Health and Safety Strategy3.
In 2021, the National Day of Health and Safety in Mining focused on a theme of Renewed Focus for Our New Normal. This year, the theme is Stepping up to the Challenge by acknowledging real events and recognising excellence in health and safety in mining including: High vaccination rate; reduction in fatalities; FOG and Transport (TMMs, Rail bound equipment and winches).
While the industry reported 23 fatalities by the end of June of this year compared to 28 fatalities at the end of June of last year, and one fatality is one too many, the Minerals Council is encouraged by the reduction in the number of fatalities and number of total fatal accidents. This safety performance improvement is attributed to a combination of factors including the Minerals Council initiatives focusing on key safety risks such as FOG, transportation and culture transformation, collaboration between the regulator, organised labour, employees, mining companies, suppliers, research organisations and universities. In partnership with the DMRE and organised labour, the Minerals Council and its member companies will continue to implement the 2021 MineSafe Commitments, to embrace innovation, modernisation and digitisation and to adopt zero harm production technologies.
We look forward to the annual National Day of Health and Safety in Mining, Health and Safety Days in operations and the Mine Health and Safety Summit in the second half of the year. These events will provide an opportunity for the industry to remain vigilant and ensure that operations do not fall victim to the challenges associated with the ‘silly’ season towards the end of the year. This year’s theme of ‘Stepping Up to the Challenge’ recognises excellence in health and safety that shows that zero harm is possible as has been demonstrated by remarkable safety performances of many companies that have remained fatality free for significant periods of time. The summit will afford industry stakeholders an opportunity to reflect on the challenges and successes to harness the achievement of 2024 milestones in occupational health and safety.
1 and 3. Khumbul’ekhaya recognises that fatalities have the greatest impact on loved ones at home. The Nguni word for “remember home”, Khumbul’ekhaya, encourages every mine employee at every level to bear these loved ones in mind as they plan their work and go about their day-to-day tasks. The strategy, which launched in 2019, is focused on eliminating fatalities and improved health performance.
2. For more information go to www.africanmining.co.za/health-and-safety/ to access the African Mining safety series, in collaboration with Industry stakeholders, on ‘Stemming fatalities on South African mines.’ Industry stakeholders shed some light on the challenges faced in addressing transport related incidents, and trackless mobile machine (TMM) incidents in particular.