January 24, 2018

Miners and unions need to work together to manage health and safety risks

Leon Rossouw 1

Leon Rossouw; Senior Vice President Mining, Metals and Minerals Division at Marsh Africa

Zero Harm dominates this year’s mining agenda ahead of the upcoming mining indaba. In the words of Minister of Mineral Resources, Adv. Ngoako Ramathlodi, the goal is “every mine worker returning home unharmed every day – striving for zero harm.”

Mining contributes 9% of South Africa’s GDP, and makes up 33% of the country’s export, so ensuring the safety of the massive labour force behind this is a key consideration for sustainable industry. Because of the sheer size of the workforce, Unions and their influence is critical to enforcing health and safety regulations in the sector.

The most recent 5 month Platinum strike saw 70000 workers get behind AMCU. The writing on the wall could not be clearer in terms of the incredible power the Unions wield. While labour relations remains key to ensuring South Africa as a safe place to invest, a solid partnership between Unions and Employers needs to be set in stone to ensure South Africa is a safe place for miners to work.

Employers need to know that they have the support of the Unions when issues like safety are at stake. Worker’s rights are paramount for the Unions, but when Employers institute disciplinary action against workers creating unsafe conditions, the Unions need to back the right horse to support Employers and ultimately build a safer workplace. If this is not happening, we will not see a further improvement in accident statistics in SA. Now more than ever Unions need to step in where necessary to stand behind disciplinary measures taken against their members to provide a safe working environment.

Due to the nature of the rapidly evolving needs of the Mining sector, traditional risk models are progressing to keep up with shifts in climate change, disruptive new technology, economic stability and supply of resources like electricity and water. Companies in Southern Africa and on the rest of the continent need to know how best to navigate and manage these risks.

Ultimately, a successful risk management policy is really dependent on partnerships, from the ground up. In South Africa, the Institute of Risk Management of South Africa (IRMSA) guidelines developed for the SA market provide a thorough framework on which companies can benchmark and assess their risk. In particular, the set of 21 questions developed by IRMSA should be considered by every risk manager, and more importantly discussed with members of the Risk and Audit committee at Board level.

A good risk manager will know if the company’s response measures for critical risks are observed consistently at all levels of the organisation.  This is where deeds need to match words, having a policy that says safety is your first priority when managers and shop stewards walk past an unsafe work area without lifting an eyebrow is pointless.

In many cases, disciplinary measures could mean termination of employment, and Unions protecting employees from losing their jobs when they have put themselves at risk is counterproductive for all.

To manage risk effectively, you have to have a risk management philosophy in place and create a ‘risk culture’ in your organisation. A first step would be to ensure you have documented procedures to respond to the various types of risk. It is impossible to take a proactive approach to managing risks or to delegate responsibility for implementation if risk responses are not properly documented. Many managers are quick to respond that they have a plan in place, but unless this plan is written down and rehearsed, it’s unlikely to be effective.

The process of documenting responses provides an ideal opportunity to seek the Union’s buy-in that the responses are reasonable and practical to implement.

The trend shows that risk management has been elevated to a level where it has an actual impact on how companies cope with disaster. Ensuring you have the right plan in place is key. Many Insurance Advisors will guide a Company into an insurance buying rather than a Risk Management Philosophy, so it’s important to speak to a Risk Advisor who can guide you to tailor the best solution for your long term needs.


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