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December 2008

Safety on South African mines has always been an issue, but there has been a change in the attitude of the industry over the past few years with the industry now making its biggest leap in safety since the 1990s.

In August 2008, the chief executive officers (CEOs) of the mining houses met for two days to discuss health and safety issues. The CEO Roundtable on Health and Safety was a historical event as it was the first time ever that mining CEOs had met to discuss only health and safety.

What was also remarkable about this event was that the document released after discussions was not the usual document of intent, but intent with action – a comprehensive action plan was drawn up and the CEOs committed their companies to these actions.

This commitment follows two years of little or no improvement in the industry’s safety performance, in fact safety figures worsened by 75%, which is of huge concern to the industry.

Following the Roundtable, industry, labour and government gathered at the tripartite Summit on Health and Safety to again discuss issues of safety. The theme of the Summit was “Zero harm through collaborative action”.

The minister of minerals and energy, Buyelwa Sonjica, was the keynote speaker at the summit and other speakers included Prof. May Hermanus, the director of the centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry. The president of the Chamber of Mines, Sipho Nkosi, the chief inspector of mines, Thabo Gazi and the National Union of Mineworkers president, Senzeni Zokwane also gave presentations.

Again an action plan was drawn up, not just a document of intent. This ushers in a new era for the mining industry where the priority is safety. So much so that Nkosi declared: “In this context and I repeat this message because it is so important; the chief executives of chamber member companies have agreed that health and safety are critical elements of all incentive schemes. Health and Safety are the core values and will take precedence over production.”

Viewing safety as a core value is a starting point. The CEOs of mining houses will show their support by being judged according to safety performance once a year.

The Summit has brought about a partnership culture with a transformation framework being developed for the industry. To achieve this, the following steps will be taken: Safer and healthier workplaces and living environment

When purchasing machinery for the workplace, a buy “quiet” policy will apply – only equipment that does not cause noise induced hearing loss will be purchased. Fatigue management will also be addressed.

It is not just workplaces that need to be healthier and safe, but also workers’ living environment. Therefore improvements will be made to accommodation, nutrition and recreational and sporting facilities.

Among other interventions the industry will continue to work with government on HIV/AIDS and TB programmes.

Learning industry

The industry is facing a skills shortage and needs to address this urgently. A CEO to worker health and safety skills framework is being developed.

The Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) will establish a virtual centre of excellence that will be run by partnerships that will undertake research and improve capacity building.

The chamber will establish a learning hub to share best practice between the mining houses, host peer reviews and support smaller companies.

Best practice adoption

Repeat accidents are one of the biggest concerns of government and the industry. To overcome this mining houses are looking at the adoption of best practice. This means sharing what works at one mine with another mine and then implementing it.

The chamber has developed a system of best practice, which is currently being piloted. In areas such as noise, dust and falls of ground, where best practice adoption has been implemented, there has been a 20% improvement in performance.

This initiative considers not just the practice itself, but training, communications, leaderships, measurements of success and any other factors that influence a best practice.

The Chamber has compiled a book on best practices to spread these practices through the industry.


Leadership and culture also influence safety. To change the industry from a top-down culture to a culture of participation and engagement will assist in making safety a way of life.


Seismic events are an ever-present threat to mining in South Africa.

A study was commissioned to focus on accidents to examine what technologies and initiatives could be used to combat seismicity. The study was compiled by both local and international experts and an independent consultancy.

“We agree that all safety and occupational health incidents are preventable and we recognize the important role to be played by properly trained occupational health and safety representatives. To support them, there is also commitment to the development of guidelines to address the rights of employees to refuse to perform dangerous work,” said Nkosi at the Summit.


Anglo Platinum is ridding itself of Fanakalo as a means of communication at its mines. An artificially manufactured language, Fanakalo has unfavourable and negative connotations foe many South Africans. Research conducted by Anglo Platinum shows that the use of Fanakalo was found to have an adverse effect not only on communications, but more important on safety issues. To resolve this situation all employees, supervisors and management will, over a period of three years, learn two languages, namely English and the dominant local language.

A strong perception held by Anglo Platinum’s executive that there is a correlation between mine safety and effective communication, proved true in the first half of 2007. The mine reported a significant deteriorating in safety performance during the first half of 2007. This led to a stoppage particularly at Anglo Platinum Rustenburg operations to ensure every employee fully understood the principles and accountability underlying all safety standards, initiatives and programmes.

Working in partnership with key stakeholders such as unions, training specialists Media Works, Wits University and Wits Enterprise a comprehensive language strategy will be phased in over the next three years.

“I am aware of numerous attempts to stamp out Fanakalo in the past by various mining houses,” admits Jackie Carroll, Media Works managing director. “But this is the first time that such a comprehensive solution has been sought and is being enacted. After running two highly successful pilots and witnessing the support that we have received from all quarters for this initiative – we know we have a solid working model that will finally release mining from the shackles of Fanakalo,” she explains.

As research conducted amongst 6 000 employees reveals, most employees agree that a change in Anglo Platinum’s language policy will improve understanding among employees and enhance workplace safety. The aim is to provide for an operational level of communication proficiency rather than to enable literacy and fluency.

As part of the mining group’s comprehensive safety improvement plan, the programme will be implemented at all managed Anglo Platinum mines/sites.

The full rollout of the Oral Language Development Programme will commence in 2009.

Historically, Fanakalo was used extensively in gold and diamond mines because the South African mining industry employed workers from across southern and central Africa; including Congo, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique. With workers originating from a variety of countries and having a vast range of different mother tongues, Fanakalo provided a simple way to communicate and is still used as training and operating medium.


De Beers’ Voorspoed Diamond Mine in South Africa, the first of a new generation of mines that sets new standards in environmental and social performance, was officially opened recently be the Honourable Ms Buyelwa Sonjica, minister of minerals and energy.

The minister was joined at the opening ceremony by Nicky Oppenheimer, chairman of the De Beers Group, Manne Dipico, chairman of De Beers’ broad based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) partner, Ponahalo holdings Limited, and the deputy chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines (DBCM), together with Gareth Penny the managing director of the De Beers Group and David Noko the managing director of DBCM.

Voorspoed is the first De Beers mine to be opened in South Africa since DBCM entered into the groundbreaking BBBEE transaction with Ponahalo in 2006. The mine has an exemplary environmental, rehabilitation and eventual closure plan that began to be implemented before the first diamond is recovered from all ground.

Voorspoed will be operated by a new generation of miner. Its employees are more qualified than is traditional for a mining environment in South Africa with all employees having completed secondary school, and many with tertiary qualifications. The mine already has an outstanding record of ‘women in mining’ and 25% of technical and mining jobs are held by women, while 36% of the mine complement is female.

Speaking before the opening ceremony Oppenheimer said: “This is a historic milestone for De Beers and our empowerment business partners. Voorspoed is the embodiment of insights we have made throughout our years of operation, about how to operate an efficient mine in a way that helps our producer partners achieve their aspirations of turning natural resources into share national wealth. I am particularly pleased that Ponahalo has played such an active role in developing this new mine and in involving the community, members of which account for nearly 50% of the Voorspoed workforce.”

Also speaking before the ceremony, Noko said “Voorspoed represents a new generation of mines operated by De Beers; the employee profile is young – less than 35 years – and all employees recruited have an education level higher than any other diamond mine in South Africa. The role of the modern miner is more empowered and well-rounded than ever before. Voorspoed is an example of what is meant by mutually beneficial partnerships – the model that De Beers continually strives for.”

He concluded: “I would particularly like to pay tribute to our partners, Ponahalo, who have contributed so much to the success that we are celebrating today. Few people fully appreciate that it is more than just financial investment that is required to bring a mine on stream. It also takes the commitment of vast team over many years. I would like to thank all the people who have worked tirelessly to make today possible.”


Alstom Mechanical Equipment’s Flakt Woods Engineered Fans unit recently commissioned a large centrifugal main surface ventilation fan and has installed it at the No.1 shaft of Anglo Platinum’s Paardekraal platinum mine near Rustenburg in the North West Province.

The 2.0m diameter fan, which has an air-moving capacity of 130cu m/sec against a resistance of 5.5 kPA, has been installed to meet additional ventilation requirements resulting from the extension of mining operations as part of the multimillion rand Paardekraal 2 Shaft Project currently underway.

The new fan is an addition to two existing main surface ventilation fans of similar size and capacity already serving No.1 shaft. The R4.5–million contract, covering design, manufacturing, installation, including construction of the foundations, and commissioning, was awarded in February 2007 by TWP Consulting (Pty) Ltd, Anglo Platinum’s engineering consultants and engineering, procurement and construction management contractors on the project. The contract was completed with the commissioning of the fan in early June 2007.

The Paardekraal 2 Shaft Project, started in mid-2006 and is scheduled for completion in early 2011. It encompasses both brownfield and Greenfield components, consisting of extensions of mining operations served by the existing No.1 shaft, plus the establishment of additional mining operations that are to be served by the new No.2 shaft, which also involves sinking a new ventilation shaft separate from the main shaft.

Earlier in 2008, the Paardekraal 2 Shaft Project was named as the winner of the Anglo Platinum chief executive’s Safety Excellence Award for 2007 for Large Underground Projects.

Ina letter of commendation to Derrick Wright, Alstom Mechanical Equipment’s product manager, engineered fans, and quality assurance manager Theuns Bester, who headed the installation team, J B Robinson, Anglo Platinum Management Services’ senior project manager, thanked them for their contribution to the award and started that it could not have been achieved without their commitment and input. “Your co-operation and commitment in ensuring zero harm on the Paardekraal 2 Shaft Project id highly commendably,” he stated.

Alstom Mechanical Equipment is part of the South African black empowered group Alstom Electrical Industries (Pty) Ltd. The current rating in terms of the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2003 and the Development of Trade and Industry’s Codes of Good Practice is Level 5, local value adding supplier.

Black empowerment investors include Tiso (9.5%), Kagiso (9.5%), individuals, management and employees (9%).


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