Mine Safety: Going Beyond Legislation and Government Regulations

The news is full of stories of government legislation clamping down on rogue businesses and industries crossing the line between shrewd business sense and dangerous – or even criminal – behaviour. Closer to home – in the African mining industry – there’s no question that the interests of mining companies and the expectations of government are not always two sides of the same coin. Evaluating the pros and cons of government intervention in mining is unfortunately a too heated and lengthy topic to debate in this forum, but what is an important topic is that area where interests do (or shall we say, should) align: mine safety.

Let’s face it—government legislation can be a real pain for mining companies, adding excessive red tape, slowing down processes, and making it harder and more costly to operate. Government doesn’t have the industry expertise or the hands-on experience to create practical guidelines or laws for an industry with complex challenges and unique technological requirements. But, when it comes to miner safety, even the wildest of government legislations can prove to be beneficial. And, sometimes new regulations can have a positive impact, making mines safer by raising the standards and enforcing compliance.

The Trackless Mobile Machine Amendment to South Africa’s Mine Health & Safety Act, which took effect on 27 May 2015, is a perfect example. The amendments aim to make mines safer by reducing accidents between trackless vehicles and people, trackless vehicles and other trackless vehicles, and trackless vehicles and rail-bound vehicles. It is a rather interesting piece of legislation that prescribes a requirement that is very difficult to attain. While seemingly straightforward and easy enough to draft, the expectations of this amendment require incredible technological advancements and massive changes to the way mines operate in South Africa.

The amendments call for all trackless mine vehicles to be fitted with technology that, in order to comply, must be able to:

  • Identify pedestrians and other vehicles in close proximity to trackless machinery;
  • Alert the operator and the people/vehicles nearby of the vehicle’s approach and presence; and
  • Automatically slow the vehicle down to a safe speed if the operator does not take appropriate action in time.

That’s pretty easy to say, but definitely not quite so easy to do.

At the time of introducing this legislation, automation and the required proximity technology was simply not ready to deliver to this expectation. Disparate systems existed that could handle pieces of the requirement, but a fully integrated system – that could be guaranteed not to introduce additional safety concerns – did not exist. The knock-on effect of this legislation was incredible, spurring many debates and creating a technology niche all of its own.

In this case, the government legislation forced mines – and technology manufacturers – to tackle a complicated challenge much quicker than they had been, and in so doing, has helped advance the development of Proximity Detection and Collision Avoidance System (CAS) technology far beyond expectations.

Will all mines in South Africa achieve the expectations of this new legislation in the time permitted? I’d say, “probably not”. But, will all mines in South Africa become – at least slightly – safer as a result? I’d say most definitely “yes”.

So, these changes in legislation and regulations probably will help make mines safer by ensuring that all mine operators comply – eventually. I guess the question is: why would responsible miners wait for governments to make the first move? Proactively implementing advanced safety technology – like collision avoidance systems and fatigue monitoring systems – is the responsible thing to do. And, the statistics show glaringly that a safer mine is a more productive mine.

Don’t wait for government to stick their nose in your mine – do the right thing and contact us now to discuss implementing the appropriate safety systems. We have advanced solutions available using best-in-class technologies for both underground and open-pit mines.