Continual efforts are being made to improve safety in the global mining industry and South Africa is at the forefront of one particular methodology – mechanised mining.

Mechanised mining offers improved safety for all mining employees. This is particularly relevant for mine managers who are responsible for the overall operation of the mine.

mechanised mining

The Centre for Mechanised Mining Systems 

In support of the development of mechanised mining systems, The Centre for Mechanised Mining Systems (CMMS) was set up as a joint initiative with the University of the Witwatersrand together with South African mining companies and mining equipment suppliers. Their aim is to develop and train mine managers and all other employees working within mining operations to contribute to the successful implementation of mechanised mining across South Africa.

Definition of Mechanised Mining

There is no one size fits all approach to mechanised mining. The CMMS states that most mining operations share common fundamental principles but each mine is unique. Subsequently, the requirements for mechanised mining at each mine will be different. Expressed simply, mechanisation is means ‘the use of tools in mining’ which means that all South Africa’s mines are, to some extent, mechanised. To ensure success, mechanisation requires ‘the attention of engineers skilled in various engineering disciplines’.

The Benefits of Mechanised Mining

According to the CMMS, the benefits of mechanised mining include:-

  • Safer working environments for mine managers and their teams
  • Greater mining efficiency and productivity.
  • The attraction of more women into mining.
  • Increased investment into the South African mining industry.
  • Improved capacity for creativity and innovation in global mining.
  • Improved quality of work.
  • Attraction and retention of skilled workers, such as mine managers, into the industry.

In March of this year Sandvik Mining commissioned the first fully mechanised rock bolter to operate in the Gold Fields’ South Deep Gold Mine. Sandvik have made mine safety their number one priority, with an increasing focus on mechanised mining techniques.  Sandvik is also one of the mining companies supporting the initiatives of the CMMS.

Another CMMS investor, Gold Fields, also stated earlier this year that a key company strategy going forward will be the derisking of mining operations through a comprehensive mechanised mining approach at local operations. This is intended to reduce the number of workers operating in high risk underground zones.

Mechanised Mining Outside South Africa

While mechanised mining is a predominantly South African initiative in today’s industry, mining companies operating in areas outside the region are recognising the benefits of mechanised mining. At the Stillwater Mine in Montana, USA, for example more than 80% of the mining is mechanised. Not only does it offer improved safety conditions for mine managers and their staff but it offers greater cost-effectiveness with a 40% reduction on non-mechanised mining costs.

Mining companies investing in the South African initiative are also committed to developing mechanised mining in their overseas mining operations. Gold Fields is a prime example, with additional international operations in Australia and Peru and plans to expand further afield.

MINESafe Awards

In support of those efforts the South African mining industry specifically promotes safety in mining with MINESafe, an annual conference which judges mining companies based on factors affecting mine managers and their teams. The prime criteria is based on improvement in lost time injury frequency rates year on year.

The conference is supported by the Department of Mineral Resources and hosted by the Association of Mine Managers of South Africa (AMMSA), the Southern African Institute for Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) and the South African Collieries Managers Association (SACMA).

This year’s conference took place on 3rd August with the clear winner being Harmony Gold, achieving six out of seven awards with their Target 1 and Target 3 operations. The company is committed to the safety of all of their operational staff such as mine managers.  In addition, it utilizes a combination of both mechanised (86%) and conventional mining (14%) at its Elsburg and Dreyerskaal reefs.

The Future for Mechanised Mining

With commitment and investment, The Centre for Mechanised Mining Systems may well see their aim to implement mechanised mining extend beyond South Africa. This can only offer long-term benefits in working conditions and safety for mine managers and mining employees across the global mining industry.