Following a fatal accident in the underground workings of a South African mining operation in 2008, external investigators conducted an extensive investigation. One of their findings was that a potentially hazardous task (mining into an old mining area) was conducted without the knowledge of senior management. 

Over the following years, our South African coal business carried out a review of the work planning processes at all their operations, which indicated the need for a process to identify high-risk tasks before they are undertaken and led to the development of a high-risk work process.

The process can be divided into 7 key activities:

  1. Identification of tasks: Operation managers identify potentially high-risk tasks a week in advance and record these on a high-risk work sheet
  2. Identification of associated risk and controls: For each task, potential risks are identified (considering relevant fatal hazards) along with the existing controls
  3. Risk rating: The tasks are ranked against a risk matrix that considers potential consequences and likelihood of an incident occurring
  4. Completion of the risk work report
  5. Allocating control verifiers: Tasks are discussed during the weekly management meeting; individuals are given responsibility for verifying the implementation of required controls for each task 
  6. Verification of the task: Use of the verification guide to confirm the critical aspects of each type of risk control:
    • Appropriateness to task
    • Communication processes
    • Knowledge and behaviour of the task owners
    • How the control compares to requirements of relevant standards or safe operating procedures
  7. Data consolidation and reporting: A report on findings from the verification activity is collated and discussed during the weekly management meeting with the Operations Director. Group-level inspections ensure the integrity of the process

Since we introduced this process we have had no incidents during the execution of high-risk tasks. It has raised awareness and the understanding of existing risk controls, and contributed to a significant reduction in incidents arising from high-risk activities.