Mining safety requires culture change

Mining could support social transformation only by changing corporate behaviour, to integrating technical and human risk management, writes Prof Philip Frankel.

Improving health and safety performance would require of industry to examine the role of social culture in individual and organisational behaviour, and apply engineering as well as ‘human’ strategies in mutual support, Prof writes in ‘Falling Ground; human approaches to mines safety in SA’ (Agency for Social Reconstruction, 2010).

An extract from the book, including some conclusions and recommendations, follows below.

Psychological engineering

Cultural architecture in South Africa is still far from elastic and amenable to redevelopment. Psychological engineering has not yet changed many mind maps, certainly not below managerial level.

The MQA Learning Hub in development at the Chamber of Mines, whose work includes the re-wiring of safety perceptions, it is by no means certain that this could occur on any kind of significant and irreversible basis by 2013.

SA mining’s initial experiences with safety culture re-engineering have been far more problematic than comparable programmes to turn around safety performance, in the non-mining sector as well as other major mining countries.

Accident Preventability

This suggests that a third of all mine employees do not believe in the preventability of mining accidents and are, by implication, highly sceptical of industrial goals geared to ‘zero harm’.

In Study B of one of the world’s largest platinum mines, people were sharply divided over whether accidents are the result of adherence to the safety rules (55.2%) a world-wide indicator of a mature safety culture – or because of sheer luck in a dangerous job that can lead to death, disablement or severe injury.

New forms of sustainable safety culture are unlikely to emerge even in the medium term because of almost insuperable difficulties involved in benchmarking and then changing human thought processes. Most of these appear to elude the designers of the crude “climate” surveys now in fashion to pinpoint manager, supervisor and worker mind-sets with a view to alteration.

There has been more solid social research using diagnostic methodologies to track longer-term trends in the .organizational culture of the mining industry which provide a relatively comprehensive view of the mental universe of the industry including values, perceptions, attitudes, judgements and evaluations of safety on the part of its various members. This includes, inter alia, a number of studies commissioned by one of the In this eventuality almost half workforce may be fatalistic, cynical and relatively unreceptive to initiatives that claim to be “improving” safety.

Blame culture; South African mining, despite efforts to the contrary, remains a ‘blame culture’.

Study A of a platinum operation in the North West Province, with a continuously poor safety record, shows that only 66% of respondents spontaneously report accidents.

Few who report accidents, and many who do not, see no connection between an accident, an investigation and organizational learning that can be used to pro-actively deal with future injuries.

Mutual effort

Even where visible, felt leadership is successful, sustainability depends on safety dedicated front line supervision and on mutual monitoring, or eyes, of the workforce.

Training for 2013, or further into the future, has to be packaged as an opportunity for personal growth as well as occupational and organisational development, rather than as a ‘necessity for effective performance’.

Change has to be presented as a series of possibilities rather than demands, and accompanied by confidence building in the workforce.

Alignment and integration

Improved safety by 2013, or soon after, requires pro active integrated safety programmes linked to wider organisational development. Integration may follow the lines of the Gold Fields Full Health and Safety Compliance Management System, but should at least combine a safety management system with a behaviour based component, risk engineering, and worker engineering elements.

Fatal risk programmes, as in platinum operations, must focus on systems, equipment and people, not a singular fascination with ‘human factors’.

Mines should take a more integrated approach in which safety and wellness initiatives are mutually reinforcing.

Safety performance also requires new technologies to deal with practical problems of deeper mining.

Training should educate the workforce to experience safety and production not as opposites, but as mutually reinforcing.

Line versus safety management

Line departments, whatever their inherent problems, should be vested with authority to monitor compliance, leaving formal health and safety structures to create risk profiles, apply more dedicated full time behavioural safety coaches, gather information on systems and behavioural feedback, and liaise with training departments.

Social mobilisation

Safety in mining is inseparable from the wider social environment. There is an indissoluble link between safe performance, workers rights, living conditions, sustainable development, and labour sending communities. The link requires a wider conception of safety than ‘workplace’ or even organisational and corporate culture issues.

The social link also implies mobilising and creatively using more stakeholders to promote and monitor safety, other than managers, supervisors and unions. Mobilisation includes ‘recruiting’ women, partners, cultural leaders and opinion makers in mining communities.

Mobilisation includes liaison between corporate officials and bodies like MHSC, more positive interaction with unions and government, despite government inter-departmental cooperation problems.

Departmental alignment

Mines should create more productive synergy between managing human and technical risk. There should be better inter departmental alignment to create higher levels of coherency.

There is very poor communication between Departments of Labour, and Department of Mineral Resources, that continues to impede the development of inclusive mining statistics, essential for effective safety planning and management.

Responsibility for mine health and safety policy is fragmented across a wide range of organisations and legislation, beyond the DMR, the seminal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1996 as amended, MPRD, and other statutes like the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act of 1973.


Social safety plans

Safety consciousness in SA mining is at an all time high among senior management in larger companies, reslting in conspicuous human, financial and organisational investments, aiming at virtual zero harm within three years.

Some international constituencies are increasingly skeptical that SA’s house is generally not in order.

SA gold mining is in its sunset years. The MHSA has commissioned a study aimed at changing the cultural framework of mine safety. The Mining Charter is reviewed, and the MHS Act is amended, although by some controversial provisions, to give the state more enforcement power.

Research in platinum and coal questions whether safety values are internalized in all operations. Group and company managers believe operations are ever more safe, but this view is vigorously disputed by nearly everyone on site.

Some officials are over confident, but incidents lead to periodic demoralisation.

Safety culture is tentative, and nearly hidden among compliance and sheq issues, as revealed in mainstream safety dialogues and even in annual reports, excepting the Anglo Platinum detailed report.

Smaller operators give relatively little thought to safety, and less to health, remaining outside the safety dialogue.

Industry and managements response to the recent recession is to focus on cutting production costs. Most investors, managers, and workers are happy to profit from current mining culture.

Safety rewards and praise are underplayed by the attitude that people are already paid to work safely. Labour advocates abolishing production bonuses, and increasing wages.

Tactical safety plans

Several modalities are in practice, each with limited potential in isolation;
* Re-engineer work conditions in tandem with technical risk management.
* Align equipment and systems
* Promote ownership of rules
* Assess human risks
* Apply various BBS interventions

Miners do not connect to volumes of rules that seek to cover every possible error. The Australian and USA dictum applies; ‘few people have accidents for which there are no procedures.’ Our safety culture remains relatively immature.

Six safety skills

Best practice in global mining, petroleum and chemical industries, focus on behaviour skills, containing six interdependent elements.

1 Integrate safety solutions
2 Customise safety interventions to site
3 Engage business, labour, and state
4 Lead by principle
5 Train for team work
6 Build positive relationsips

Social alignment

Mining safety is seen as a workplace issue, and interventions are aimed at workplace conditions and acts, involving a mixture of carrots and sticks, narrowly conceived to change behavior.

These interventions do not impact on safety habits originating beyond the boundaries of organisations.

Whether we meet the 2013 goals in a way conducive to sustainable safety, depends not only on workplace initiatives, but also on relationships within and between organisations, and developments at the interface between the industry and the state.

No mining company is so highly centralised as to be monolithic (a defect that Anglo is starting to address). Any complex mining company contains many cross-cutting and divergent agendas. Safety policy reflects less of a single organisational thrust than a complex mixture of departmental, personal, factional and internal bureaucratic interests and struggles.

This is especially the case with policy implementation where the challenge in companies like Anglo Platinum is to align initiatives in many semi autonomous mines, safety departments and lines of operation, into a consistent unit.

Safety execs crucial

The nature of senior corporate appointments can be decisive in shifting the safety focus, based on presence or absence of a single dominant individual. In the same way that safety commitments at mine level reflect the vision, vigilance and dedication of senior management, so company policy reflects who is at and around the helm.

In most companies, Anglo, Gold Fields, and most others, safety initiatives are highly dependent on politics generated by what the CEO and COO do and allow to be done.

Safety data not shared

Many mines aspire to a leadership role in safety enhancement and as pace setters to the industry. Union mine in the platinum sector and some Anglo Gold Ashanti mines come to mind.

Yet leading experience in reducing accidents and injuries remain largely unknown outside the operations and companies concerned, partially because lack of documentation, partially due to the absence of a tradition of knowledge sharing.

There is an urgent need for a centralised data base of national proportions to guarantee access to information by wider publics and stakeholder institutions.

Even the DMR lacks access to critical seismic data and other information essential for effective accident investigation. This allows mining companies to evade responsibility by claiming that there were no prior warnings before incidents.

This lack of safety data and information would be utterly inconceivable to regulators in other major mining countries like Canada or Australia.

Mining houses should take action to learn from one another and set up more cooperation models like the Bushveld Safety Forum.

We need far more general mining information if the Chamber’s new Learning Hub is to prosper.

The role of the Chamber in stimulating greater safety is crucial, especially now that some companies are apparently breaking free from employee unity, circumventing Chamber policy, and proceeding to work with through alternative institutions like SAMDA as a means to gaining access to the state and powerful black empowerment interests.

Most communications with the DMR are inconsistent or reactive, after loss incidents.

Safety research lack

Research and support services for improved mine safety on the part of organizations under the MSA umbrella, also suffers from some institutional under development.

MQA has made an important contribution to developing unit standards for industrial training, but many commentators see it as lacking human capital and capacity needed to effectively educate the industry about risk taking.

The MHSC itself is said to lack direction in its intention to change safety culture, following years of dedication to the improvement of safety systems.

We also need more integration to develop a national mine safety network, aligned with the Council of Geo-Sciences.

Safety politicised

Mining and mine safety in mining in South Africa is far more politicised than in the USA or Australia, due to relative high importance of mining to the nation the decades old centrality of mining to the reproduction of class and racial power.

Mining is a primary target of transformative policies of the post apartheid state and society.

Much of what is done or not done in the safety arena, is about power struggles between companies, officials, unions and government, including individual agendas.

Mine stoppage power play

Government is using temporary mine stoppages to bolster state authority by the DMR, seen as destructive to production and safety capacity by industry.

There is no proven relationship between the spate of mine stoppages and safety improvements. Some officials say the DMR inspectorate is killing the golden goose, while mines loose R6-m per day (R3.24-b per annum) in Section 54 closures. Mines will doubtlessly seek to recoup these losses through accelerated production.

Stoppages and recoup phases will add to tension with unions and could lead to a cap on future safety initiatives.

Production prospects

Production requirements in the gold and platinum sectors, key points for future safety initiatives, are not especially favourable.

The medium term future for gold is likely to see a further drop from the present 220 tons per annum, under impact of declining ore grades, hyper expensive electricity, skills shortages, labour issues and increased operating costs.

In platinum, where the biggest producer Anglo Platinum ran up a debt of over R17-b in 2008 -2009, a strong Rand has undercut high world prices. There is a growing of ambiguity about the primacy of safety at any cost.

Much current DMR assertiveness derives from frustration with high levels of non-compliance that Presidential Audit inspection revealed. State authorities also suffer some disorganisation and lack of capacity.

Anglo’s tripartite safety drive

In 2008 Anglo American hosted a summit in Sandton following a spate of accidents in the industry and pressure from senior leadership to bring together major mining companies, organised labour and government via DME.

In meeting these challenges, it has been suggested, that the inspectorate be re-established as an organ of state outside public service regulation and serviced by the National Treasury to allow greater capacity building by skills recruitment and retention.

The Inspectorate since been re-constituted as an independent agency within DMR, which has also launched a new Learner Inspector Programme whose graduates will be obliged to work off their bursaries. The scheme is expected to have impact within several years.

Meanwhile there is great entrepreneurial activity in low grade mining and old mines changing hands.

Most major companies attended as observers, but subsequent initiatives were almost entirely the work of Anglo. Anglo, unions and government established an entity to initiate action in key areas like improving safety leadership and building capacity among safety representatives and supervisors.

World safety tour

A delegation of a dozen Anglo, union and DME officials went on a world tour to observe international best mining safety practice in Britain, Ireland, Chile and Australia.

These experiences are distilled into five themes that go to the heart of current safety issues.

A work stream arising from the process maintains engagement ethic, another builds capacity in Anglo operations, another improves visible felt leadership, VFL, and industrial standards, and a fifth stream now examines occupational health management.

Senior Anglo officials in coal and platinum divisions oversee each area to drive quick return projects.

A new program builds behavioural capacity among supervisors, improves VFL and ensures minimal safety performance the Anglo group, ‘360 degree’ evaluations have taken place, and a leadership centre has been established to build capability at all levels.

A high level information system,, has been introduced to cover all facets of risk management.

Coal and platinum safety forums

The ‘tripartite’ now operates as two regional bodies, in Witbank, off to a slow start, and in North West province where platinum stakeholders table their issues. Some large mines do not actively participate, and some are reluctant to share certain safety information, partly from reluctance to support the leading mines.

DMR lacks capacity to take on new commitments, despite government pressure to stem fatal incidents. Meanwhile mining fatalities continue in China and disturbingly, even the USA.

Labour participation has to extend from NUM to smaller unions.

Change corporate behaviour

SA mining should examine the role of culture and leadership in change management, and links between technical and human risk management, aiming at changing organisational and mining behaviour.

Only then could mining claim to be a vehicle for social transformation.

* Prof Philip Frankel is director of the Agency for Social Reconstruction, and contributor to the 2009 presidential mine H&S audit. The report above is an extract from ‘Falling Ground; human approaches to mines safety in SA’, sold worldwide and available from with a follow-up book ‘Mine Safety By Organisational Behaviour Modification’ available in January 2011.

* The 2010 book draws on a database of mining safety case studies, labelled ‘culture cluster studies’, covering 35 mines in all sectors, offering a detailed base of social psychology of mine safety, although mostly not in the public domain, and a mental map for reconfigured safety culture, which the industry had identified as important. The studies are;

> Five Mine study; covering gold, coal, platinum and base metals sectors, commissioned from the Agency for Social Reconstruction by Anglo American PLC in 2004. Parts of this study were presented at the ICMM International Health and Safety conference in Johannesburg in November 2006.
> Safemap study for the Mining Health and Safety Council, MHSC, 2004 -2005, in the public domain.
> Study A and Study B; detailed studies of two of South Africa’s biggest platinum mines in the North West province, concluded in 2007.
> PSS study; large comparative analysis of safety in projects and steady state platinum mines, completed for a major mining house in 2009.
> BM 2009 study; a study in the base metals sector, conducted almost in tandem with the book ‘Falling Ground’.

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