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:
1. 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.
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 188.8.131.52 (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. Know the hazards, and 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, 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.
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