Safety in the mining industry in South Africa is a complex and complicated issue and involves much more than the simple erecting of industrial safety barricades and safety fences to keep workers protected and safe.
Mines can put in place all the safety measures available to them but what it often comes down to is human nature. For example, here is a typical incident quoted in Deloitte’s Mining Safety Business Imperative :
“An example of this can be found in the report of a recent incident at a gold mine in South Africa. The incident involved six men who attempted to lift a door that was too heavy for them to manage. It slipped from their grasp and fell on one of the men, killing him. The solution recommended by the inspection was that the removal of doors and frames be stopped until a procedure outlining how this should be done in future was developed. The problem should be clear: There are so many potential permutations in the way that accidents happen that if we had to create a procedure for each one, the rule book would become too thick to carry, never mind read. The assumption is that if you know what the right thing is to do, and you know the consequences of not doing it, you will change your behaviour and comply. Once again, this is simply is not the case, and in fact, all we end up with are very thick rulebooks that no one reads”.
Incentive schemes are used in the mining industry as an intervention and if used correctly are useful but have many unintended consequences. Production incentives often shift the workers focus away from safety. If a percentage of a worker’s compensation is linked to his output and his family is dependent upon his income then survival will often come before safety. This is understandable but, of course, the consequences can be disastrous. If the worker is concentrating on financial survival and not basic survival in terms of safety and saving his life by following all the safety rules so carefully put in place by management the outcome could be a disaster for him and his family.
If the mine places incentives on output but requires safe behaviour there are inherent tensions. Incentivising safety in the mining sector can also have unintended consequences. An example of consequences is an unwillingness to share knowledge, to hold knowledge close to the chest, in case others also find the recipe to success. Of course this does not mean that incentives are wrong, it simply means that if safety in the mining sector is the issue being focused on other initiatives have to be taken into account.
It is expected that miners should refuse to work in unsafe working conditions but there are many examples where this does not happen. The underlying reasons could include the focus on production, the fear of consequences from management or fellow miners or production incentives.
All in all, safety in the mining sector is a complex issue. Safety barrier fencing, rules and regulations and incentives all play a part but in the end the human factor must be taken into account.