Picture: SOWETAN
Picture: SOWETAN

The core of any business is its people; how those employees are treated is essential in achieving business objectives that go beyond profits. Targets in business are a daily objective and are welcomed, though they should not diminish care about the safety of the human capital that drives the growth of the company.

At the beginning of October the Minerals Council SA made a welcome announcement of the launch of Khumbul’ekhaya, a CEO-led strategy on health and safety developed by the council’s CEO Zero Harm Forum. Mining safety has been a central focal point for the council over the past few years. As a proud member of the council, Exxaro has bought into the campaign and is 100% behind it.

The CEO Zero Harm Forum’s central focus is to encourage participation on the part of mining CEOs and draw commitment that is modelled on leadership behaviour. The forum intends to share what kind of challenges are faced by the industry and how these are being managed, and to closely work with key stakeholders and, most importantly, mining communities.

Every mineworker must return home daily, unharmed — that is the defining mantra for the mining industry in SA. This was the premise of an honest and forthright conversation among 34 mining CEOs in January 2019. Those conversations have led us here, as we work closely with our key partners in the government and organised labour to achieve a single goal: Zero Harm.

Khetha Ukuphepha, loosely translated as “choose safety”, is a campaign that aims to further draw inspiration from Exxaro’s long-standing track record of mine safety, boosted by zero fatalities. This campaign, which has been implemented within Exxaro across all our operations, will further strengthen the messaging, not only to our employees but also with key stakeholders, that when it comes to safety there are no compromises.

We in the mining industry must also acknowledge the thousands of lives that have been lost in the past 100 years. These are souls dearly missed by their loved ones to this day. The goal must be to avoid any repetition.

Among the aims of Exxaro’s Khetha Ukuphepha safety campaign is to ensure everything that is done today is geared towards a more safe and productive tomorrow, as every day counts in our business operations. Each day has been counting as from August 30, which at the time was 31 months of zero fatalities for Exxaro — a resounding achievement that drives us to do more, even better.

A journey to Zero Harm in mining requires all involved to roll up their sleeves and get involved, not only as mere participants but as leaders who want to achieve safety excellence, centred at the core of our business. We are a business that is aware of the ecosystem we operate in, not only in SA’s mining industry but also in the country’s broad economic framework. In that light, the campaign by the Minerals Council is one we are fully behind. The days of fatalities in our industry must be put behind us.

We need to start showing the world we are light years ahead when it comes to the application of digitised technology that not only prevents accidents but saves lives. Rapid digitalisation across industries, with mining being one of them, made us realise that trends that drove innovations looking at new mining methods, new technologies and better people management techniques have become a priority.

While we move with the fast pace of digitalisation we are also mindful that as Exxaro, a proud corporate citizen of SA, we also operate within the ambit of the Mine Health and Safety Act. This law has been a pillar over the years, as emphasised by the government and the council, and we are fully in support of that emphasis.  Since the act was drawn up in 1996 it has been wholeheartedly clear about putting the safety of mineworkers first.

Between 1993 and 2018 the mining industry has seen an 80% decrease in fatalities, and a decrease in injuries of 66%. These milestone achievements are an indication that a lot has been done to improve mine safety, though a lot more work lies ahead if we are to assure South Africans, and particularly the families of mineworkers, that their loved ones will return home unharmed.

We are on a journey, certainly not at our destination. Despite the obstacles faced along this journey, the determination of Exxaro and the Minerals Council is to see smiling faces of family members when their mineworker loved ones come home. 

• Mgojo is Exxaro CEO