Safety efforts, policy need support of mining firms

19 November 2019 - 06:48
By mxolisi mgojo
Mining houses are working closely with  government and organised labour to achieve Zero Harm./Waldo Swiegers / Getty Images
Mining houses are working closely with government and organised labour to achieve Zero Harm./Waldo Swiegers / Getty Images

The core of any business is its people, and how those employees are treated is essential in achieving business objectives that go far beyond profits.

Targets in business are a daily objective and are welcomed though they should not be to a point where there is very little care about the safety of the human capital that drives the growth of the company.

At the beginning of October, the Minerals Council South Africa (MCSA) made a welcome announcement of Khumbul'ekhaya, a CEO-led strategy on health and safety, developed by the council's CEO Zero Harm Forum. Mining safety has been a central focal point for MCSA over the past few years. As a proud member of the council, Exxaro has bought into the campaign and is 100% behind it.

The CEO Zero Harm Forum's central focus is to get participatory actions on the part of mining CEOs and draw commitment that is modelled on leadership behaviour. The Forum intends to also share what kind of challenges are faced by the industry and how are these managed and to further closely work with key stakeholders and most importantly, mining communities.

Every mineworker must return home daily, unharmed - that is the defining mantra for the mining industry in South Africa. This was the premise of an honest and forthright conversation among 34 mining CEOs in January.

Those conversations are leading us here as we work closely with our key partners in government and organised labour to achieve a single goal - Zero Harm.

Khetha Ukuphepha, loosely translated as choose safety, is a campaign that aims to further draw inspiration from Exxaro's long-standing track record of mine safety, boosted by zero fatalities. This Exxaro campaign, which has been launched across all our operations, will further strengthen the messaging not only with our employees but also with the rest of our key stakeholders that when it comes to safety, there are no compromises.

What we in the mining industry also acknowledge are the thousands of lives lost in the past 100 years. These are souls dearly missed to this day. And we seek not to have such deadly repetitions. Among the various aims of Exxaro's Khetha Ukuphepha Safety Campaign is to ensure everything that is done today, is geared towards a more safe and productive tomorrow as every day counts in our business.

Each day has been counting as at August 30 2019, which at the time was Exxaro's 31 months of managing zero fatalities - a resounding achievement that drives us to do more, even better. A journey to Zero Harm in mining requires all involved to roll up their sleeves and get involved, not only as mere participants but as leaders who desire to achieve safety excellence centred at the core of our business.

We are a business that is aware of the eco-system we operate in not only in South Africa's mining industry but also in the broad economic framework of South Africa.

In that light, the campaign by the MCSA is one we are fully behind as the days of fatalities in our industry must be put behind us. We need to start showing the world we are light years ahead when it comes to the application of digitised technology that not only prevents accidents but saves lives.

Rapid digitalisation across industries, with mining being one of them, made us realise trends that drove innovations looking at new mining methods, new technologies and better people management techniques as safety has become a priority.

While we move with the fast pace of digitalisation, we are also mindful that as Exxaro, and a proud corporate citizen in South Africa, we also operate within the ambit of the Mine Health and Safety Act.

The Act has been a pillar over the years as emphasised by government and the MCSA, and we are fully in support of that emphasis. Since the Act was drawn up in 1996, it has been wholeheartedly clear about putting the safety of mineworkers first. Between 1993 and 2018, the mining industry has seen a whopping decrease of 80% of fatalities, and an injury decrease of 66% in the same period.

These milestone achievements are an indication that a lot has been done in mine safety, and a lot more work lies ahead as we ensure South Africans that their loved ones will return home unharmed.

We are on a journey, certainly not destination. Despite the obstacles faced along this journey, the determination of Exxaro and MCSA is that of seeing smiling faces of families when the mineworker walks through the door at home.

*Mgojo is chief executive officer at Exxaro Resources