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SAFER MINING IS GOOD BUSINESS: THE IMPORTANCE OF HEALTH AND SAFETY IN AFRICAN MINING

With the complexity associated with the development of new mining projects to deliver on the constantly increasing demand for beneficiated minerals, mining has long been considered one of the most hazardous occupations in the world.


In such an unforgiving environment, the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) cannot be overstated. Against this backdrop, Sam Mabena, an experienced safety practitioner in the African mining industry, recently took up the challenge to lead the safety department at Erudite, with a focus on developing and enhancing the best safety systems available in the industry.


Erudite is an engineering, procurement, and construction management (EPCM) company with a foothold in multiple countries across Africa. Since its founding, it has helped numerous mining enterprises to get off the ground and improve both their operational stability and profitability.


Mabena states that while South Africa is still one of the most regulated countries in Africa, other African countries are also improving their safety regulations and enforcement of systems, and are reaping the benefits.


Notably, OHS management plays a vital role in ensuring that organisations remain productive and competitive in the long term. Additionally, these kinds of programmes improve an organisation’s public image, increase employee satisfaction and motivation, and result in substantial cost savings as the result of avoiding downtime, he explains.


“The considerable improvement in safety statistics seen over the past few years can be attributed to new interventions implemented by the Minerals Council Board in December 2021, and exhaustive measures undertaken by the various mining stakeholders to curtail the worrying trend of the two years prior.”


Since 2023, with over 4,200 shifts worked, Erudite has not experienced any fatalities, other injuries, high-profile incidents such as government stoppages, nor any health, social, and environment-related incidents.


Small changes can have a significant and enduring impact.


A considerable concern for mining projects, given that employees often work with large, heavy equipment, is workplace fatigue. Employees, and managers especially, must be attentive to signs of fatigue such as slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, lack of attention, underestimation of risk, and reduced coordination.


It is crucial that organisations manage employees’ working hours, promote rest periods, and improve overtime approval processes to minimise worker fatigue, emphasises Mabena.


He encourages management to implement practical systems which employ hierarchical control processes and preventative measures to protect workers from illnesses and injuries. This could include the physical removal of hazards from the workplace, replacement of hazardous equipment and materials where possible, isolating hazardous material, and protect workers with effective and applicable PPE.


He additionally stresses that effective safety training cannot be overlooked. When creating a safety training programme, companies must use engaging training methods to hold employees’ attention and increase retention rates; develop training material that is relevant to workers’ roles; use real-life examples; include weekly or monthly refresher training; and provide ongoing support to workers after training has been completed.


Erudite, as a leading African EPCM, understands the importance of workplace health and safety. It consistently emphasises safety implementation and training in working with its various African clients with the goal of helping them grow into globally competitive mining companies.


“African mining enterprises have an incredible opportunity to capitalise on the rapidly expanding global minerals market. But as they seize these opportunities, it’s important not to lose focus on health and safety,” adds Johann de Bruin, CEO at Erudite.


“Arguments for the implementation of advanced health and safety systems go far beyond duty and altruism – they often result in decreased worksite accidents and lower stoppage times, which cut back on cost-wastage and attract investors who emphasise the need for safety.


“Improved OHS systems not only improve productivity and profitability, but also attract international investment and enhance the company’s public image. With proper implementation and training, other African nations can follow in South Africa’s footsteps and benefit from lucrative international investment.”

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