Safe working environment

2014 CASE STUDY:

Creating a safe working environment for employees

The ability to locate lost personnel in underground working sections has become critically important to Sibanye. Following two fatalities at the Beatrix and Kloof operations in the past year, when people were lost underground, the executive has committed to never losing another employee and has developed technology to this end.

In both cases, says Peter Turner, Senior Vice President: Technical Services for Sibanye, search-and-rescue personnel were within close proximity of the lost employees but they were unable to determine their exact locations in good time. “Although there are many systems available that can provide the last known location of an employee, they are non-directional and limited in range,” explains Peter. “In most cases, the delay in personnel recovery occurs within the last 100m of the search as the working areas are complex and line of sight is limited. The window of opportunity to rescue a lost or incapacitated employee is small, and the ability to accurately determine the employee’s location in time may prove to be the difference between life and death.”

Sibanye’s Safe Technology department, created in mid-2014, is in the final stages of testing a radio frequency identification (RFID) personnel locating system, which will be able to locate employees in working sections precisely. The system uses a handheld scanner and active RFID tags installed in cap lamp batteries.

“The system is in no way dependent on additional infrastructure being installed, and preliminary testing has shown positive results,” Peter points out. “It is also able to function in all areas, not just those equipped with communication infrastructure. It is also possible to use multiple scanners to extend the signal coverage and enhance the system’s search-and-rescue capabilities.”

At an average cost of approximately R750,000 per shaft, and a predicted roll-out period of six months, the relatively low cost and easily deployable characteristics of the system have seen widespread support from industry. Sibanye has engaged with other industry role players in order to expose the technology to different mining layouts and environments. To date, Gold Fields, Harmony, AngloGold Ashanti and Impala Platinum have committed resources to the commercial testing phase. The project has also been put forward by the Chamber of Mines as a “quick win” project for research funding by the Mine Health and Safety Council.

ABOUT SAFE TECHNOLOGY

Sibanye has always considered the development of technology as a fundamental strategy. To this end, after the 2014 executive strategy session, Safe Technology was identified as a strategic imperative and, in the third quarter, Safe Technology was established as an executive portfolio with a new operating structure.

The Safe Technology department is intent on enabling Sibanye’s employees to meet their targets by providing a safer and more productive working environment by developing and implementing safer technologies and processes.

Safe Technology is being positioned to focus on, and create value in, three fundamental areas:

IMPROVING SAFETY THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
IMPROVING SAFETY THROUGH TECHNOLOGY [diagram]

Throughout Sibanye’s operations, there are legacy mining opportunities, such as those presented by the mine call factor – this is the ratio of the gold extracted to the measure of gold contained in the rock. To date, the average mine call factor is 80%, which is the percentage of gold lost due to, inter alia, secondary movement by mining-induced cracks along the footwall. Conventional vamping methods, employed to reclaim ultra-fine gold, although proven successful, are premised on old workings providing safe access for personnel.

The solution proposed by Safe Technology is to remove people from these dangerous areas by introducing remote-controlled, mechanical sweeping using mechanised low-profile equipment, which would allow for a significantly greater area to be swept as it would preclude conventional opening up and re-support methods required for safety.

“Safe Technology plans to safely enhance current mining practices by developing and implementing appropriate technologies focused on improving the safety, efficiency and productivity of the current, conventional processes, with emphasis on reducing employee exposure to the danger area, wherever possible,” says Peter. “Safe Technology is aligned to adopt and drive new developments, assisted by the operations and Sibanye’s internal network of resources.”

Apart from the Personnel Locator System mentioned above, as an example of a rapid development project necessitated by successive incidences of fatalities due to people lost underground, Safe Technology has also presented a solution to mine high-grade crush pillars at Cooke 1 shaft.

Conventional mining methods, although proven successful, are time-consuming when establishing a site and present limited potential to increase production rates due to single shift time-blasting and face availability. As a solution, Safe Technology has developed a non-explosive mining technique with equipment that is available immediately and suitable support design – presenting a quantum leap in production rates as well as safety improvements.

Safe Technology has also embarked on a stope mechanisation programme, aimed at removing people from dangerous areas while reducing costs and paylimits. An ultra-low-profile platform is being manufactured; capable of supporting multiple attachments that will either drill and break mechanically or enable rapid panel drilling cycles using multiple drills.

“This is in response to the paradigm shift in hard-rock mining needed to keep us competitive locally and globally – and thus ensure the long-term sustainability of our operations,” says Peter. “We need to be innovative in our approach to deep-level mining.”

  • Phase 2 Sibanye Gold locomotive
  • Ultra-low-profile platform with drill-and-break attachment
  • Ultra-low-profile platform with multi-drill attachment
Safe Technology has made a commitment to lead industry collaboration in developing appropriate technology through inter-company, regulatory, administrative and institutional relationships. The department plans to leverage its established network of original equipment manufacturers, institutions and mining houses, and capitalise on lessons learned in the past, as well as experience acquired in the field, to propel Sibanye to the forefront of appropriate technology for deep-level South African gold mines.