Mining Industry Productivity and the Impact of Leading Health & Safety Trends

According to PwC, the South African mining industry will play a fundamental role in rebuilding the country’s post-COVID-19 economy. The good news is that the sector is currently looking robust. In 2021, StatsSA released its latest report on mining production and mineral sales. After two years in decline, February 2021 showed an increase in mining production of 0.8% with mineral sales increasing by 26%.


Does high mining productivity equal high employee productivity?

According to research conducted by McKinsey, there is a sustained push to boost productivity in the mining sector. In many mining operations, improved productivity has been achieved by reducing employee headcount and by limiting other expenditure. Closer analysis reveals that production increases of 1.8% year-on-year run in tandem with an annual decrease in employment of 3%.

As the technological impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and mechanisation alters traditionally human-driven processes, operational productivity will accelerate. Unavoidably, it will also diminish employment prospects for workers and has the potential to alienate skilled employees who will have an important role to play in the transition to mechanised work environments

The message to executives in the mining industry is clear: Your current human capital will significantly impact the success of any mechanisation and technological innovations that you want to implement.

Companies that want to ensure a successful transition will have to convince their employees that a need still exits for them in the future and offer a compelling strategy that includes redirecting jobs and reskilling workers.

It will also require clear employee engagement that builds the confidence of employees and encourages them to take advantage of new opportunities aimed at boosting productivity.

Along with this, it is important to be aware of two primary health and safety trends that could pose a potential challenge to enhanced employee productivity, in this era of technological advancement.

Trend #1: Digital communication as a method to improve mineworkers’ health

A wellness approach to common illnesses

Silicosis, tuberculosis (TB) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are common illnesses among frontline employees in the mining industry. Mining conditions are in part responsible for the high levels of TB, which is exacerbated by the concentration of people in enclosed spaces. Mineworkers with silicosis are six times more likely to develop active TB, and mineworkers with silicosis and HIV are 18 times more likely to develop active TB.

South Africa’s mining industry is conscious that these diseases are a very real challenge. In response, in November 2018, the Minerals Council Board approved the Masoyise Health Programme, which ran until the end of 2021.

The programme not only tackled TB and HIV but took a proactive holistic approach to wellness that incorporated non-communicable diseases and occupational lung diseases, with a view to reversing the alarming disease trends in the sector.

One of the key activities in the Masoyise Health Programme focused on the building of impactful communication systems. The approach proved to be effective, and your company can adopt a similar approach including initiatives such as:

● Providing health related content

● Awareness day details

● Wellness campaign invitations

Initially, this information will appear via traditional methods such as:

● Face-to-face communication

● Corporate intranet platform

● E-mail correspondence

● Videos

● Company notice boards

● Business memos

● Business reports

● Texting

Eventually, the digital elements of your employee engagement will expand to include new ways of connecting. Through an integrated employee engagement system, your company can take proactive steps to assist your employees by providing:

● Tips and educational alerts about common health issues

● Reminders for regular, scheduled check-ups

● Alerts to notify employees when prescriptions are due for renewal

● Arranging for a delivery/pick-up service at the mine

● Motivational messages to:

1) Encourage employees to continue with their schedule of medication. This is especially important for those with TB, as failing to complete the required course of medication means they are more likely to develop multi-drug resistant TB, which is much more difficult to treat.

2) Congratulating individuals on reaching positive medical milestones.

Through broader engagement, not only do you involve and inform your employees, but you empower them to take control and be accountable for their own health. This can lead to reduced absenteeism and improved employee productivity.

COVID-19 and the Mining Sector

After COVID-19’s initial impact, the effects were felt on day-to-day operations and ways of working. Aside from measures such as social distancing, companies restricted access to their sites and tried to maintain operations with minimal staff. Some even deferred non-critical maintenance and other non-prioritised activities. There were also mine site closures as a result of the virus or a lack of personnel.

This continues to have a direct and negative impact on employee productivity. Employees who have been furloughed are resentful at losing their income, and employees who remain are overworked and stressed as the result of the increased workload, fear of losing their jobs, and ongoing concerns related to potential exposure to the virus.

Traditional methods of communicating, such as notice boards, flyers, and posters, are ineffective in this environment. The first step to maintaining employee productivity is keeping your workforce connected, for example via and employee engagement app, such as the Wyzetalk platform for mining.

With the Wyzetalk solution, workers can access the app at any time to:

● View content relevant to their jobs

● See safety messages

● Access health information

Each employee receives an SMS linking them to the mobile community where they can give feedback, answer questions, or update their details. This is especially important with a reduced workforce, where employees need to know who is still on-site and how to manage their workload, should they need to assume responsibility for an absent co-worker’s duties.

Additionally, employees have access to standby rosters via an app, with instant notifications about site closures and safety hazards.

An employee engagement app also contributes to uplifting overall psychosocial wellness, specifically in destigmatising a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and historical attitudes towards mental health.

It also provides a sense of connectedness, which is important for many workers in an altered post-COVID-19 work environment.

Trend #2: Digital communication to manage, minimise and mitigate health and safety risks

Health and safety is the number one concern in mining. In an industry where most workers spend all their time hundreds of meters underground, where drilling, blasting and other dangerous activities are integral to output, the potential for the unexpected is high.

The last 20 years have witnessed a global effort to reach the goal of Zero Harm, but conditions are still extremely dangerous. Training is key to an effective and, more importantly, protected team, thereby minimising and mitigating risk. This can be supported by a variety of communication tools, including:

● Running health and safety campaigns

● Communicating critical safety behaviours

● Tracking lost-time injury statistics

● Enabling employees to get information about, and order, Personal Protection Equipment

● Resources such as:

– Releases/bulletins

– Daily dashboards

– FAQs/myth-busting fact sheets

– Posters

– Education/information videos and animations.

The need to be constantly alert to avoid work injuries, long shifts, and the intense physicality of the job, takes its toll on workers. Frontline workers who are empowered via effective employee communication systems are more willing to take charge of their own and their team’s safety, thereby contributing to overall mine safety.

Key Takeaways

The significant role the industry will play in economic rejuvenation makes it imperative to be aware of trends that have a direct influence on its productivity.

Although both persistent (safety) and emerging (technology) trends will have a significant impact on productivity in mining, the right employee engagement tools will augment efforts to bring greater efficiency and connectivity across your operations.

Are you looking for ways to increase employee productivity in your mining organisation? Talk to an expert to see how we can help.