UCT assists Anglo to improve mine safety

South Africa has a tainted record when it comes to mining-related fatalities. In 2008 alone, 168 formally employed and contracting miners lost their lives. “The numbers are decreasing – there was a 29% improvement from 2007 to 2008 – but more can be done to ensure the safety of our miners,” said Dr Wynand van Dyk, to a packed Jameson Hall audience of UCT Chemical Engineering staff and students.


Van Dyk’s lecture formed part of the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment’s safety week programme (that ran from 27 – 31 July), which highlighted the importance of safety awareness. Van Dyk, a chemical engineer who boasts 17 years’ experience working in South African mines and now runs a consulting firm, and educates Anglo American employees in safety risk management on behalf of UCT.


The course was developed by Professor Jim Joy of the University of Queensland in Australia and is based on the G3 course aimed at reducing mining accidents and fatalities, for mine managers working in the Queensland area. Anglo American subsequently adopted the Safety Risk Management Process (SRMP) programme that is taught to all Anglo staff; from company executives, managers, and supervisors, to entry-level employees.


The programme sets out to establish and embed a world class safety risk management process that delivers radical improvement in safety for all of Anglo’s employees. The programme will run until 2011, by which time Anglo’s manager level employees, consisting of about 8,500 people worldwide (of which about 87% are based in South Africa), will have completed the course.


As part of the worldwide roll-out, Anglo identified seven top university partners in South Africa, Australia, Chile, Brazil, the USA, Canada and England as the best vehicles for delivering the A3 level (aimed at Anglo management) of the programme. In South Africa, the course is being given by the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Pretoria and UCT. 


In 2008, when Anglo approached UCT to source viable candidates to teach the course, Professors J-P Franzidis and Associate Professor Dave Deglon, of the Minerals to Metals signature theme, turned to Wynand van Dyk and Carel Roode (also a chemical engineer, and a former General Manager of Impala Platinum) as trainers. To date, UCT has delivered 16 courses, with another 6 planned for 2009 alone.


“Though risk assessment is built into the Mine Health and Safety Act, and South Africa’s risk profile is similar to other countries, the mining fatality rate is still significantly higher than the rest of the world,” said van Dyk. “It’s necessary to put controls in place to reduce risk… and so move away from a compliance-type culture to a resilient one.  SRMP helps enable safe production by educating all employees on how to better understand the hazards, identify the unwanted hazards, and assess and manage risks using a standard set of tools and techniques.”


Van Dyk went on to stress the critical role engineers can play in helping the drive toward zero harm.


“Human error is unavoidable,” he said. “Controls that are dependent on human behaviour are therefore ineffective. As engineers, we design, maintain and operate processes that harness energies to do work. We therefore need to understand the energies and put effective controls in place to prevent the unwanted release of energies.”


Also speaking on the day was Professor Jack Fletcher, Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, who said that the faculty has an obligation to provide an environment that strives toward zero harm.  


“We are thinking – while grappling with the curriculum – of finding ways to introduce safety into undergraduate programmes,” he said.


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