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:
- Identification of tasks: Operation managers identify potentially high-risk tasks a week in advance and record these on a high-risk work sheet
- Identification of associated risk and controls: For each task, potential risks are identified (considering relevant fatal hazards) along with the existing controls
- Risk rating: The tasks are ranked against a risk matrix that considers potential consequences and likelihood of an incident occurring
- Completion of the risk work report
- 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
- 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
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.