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A Step Change in Mining Safety 

Kill two birds with one stone- more productivity and inherent safety

In a 2024 LInkedin poll Stratflow asked:" Which strategy is more likely to enhance mining safety while mitigating legislative pressure." The answers were as follows.

·       1) Intensify our current efforts -0%

·       2) Shift to HRO model -22%

·       3) Adopt Safety 2 principles -22%

·       4) Expand safe production edge -56%

This poll is consistent with our experience of the last two decades. Various safety strategies have been tried in mining; some success has been achieved, but the breakthrough has yet to happen.


What is needed for a breakthrough safety strategy?

Expanding the safe production edge requires improving safety and productivity simultaneously. An effective way of doing this is to stabilise the production flow near the maximum of the typical range of production values.


Current State- Misalignment between executives and frontline:

The Feb 2023 Queensland Parliamentary report "Inquiry into coal mining industry safety" ( Report No. 29, 57th Parliament Transport and Resources Committee) clarifies the trade-offs supervisors must make between safety and productivity. During the enquiry, management presented substantial evidence of its commitment to safety. This involves establishing HROs (High Reliability Organisation), requiring more and better work planning and always emphasising that safety comes first. Worker representatives highlighted that, in practice, these good intentions run aground on production pressure, especially near the month-end and year-end when supervisors are under pressure to meet production targets. The pressure increases where contract labour is involved.

This is the conundrum miners must deal with: the continuous trade-off supervisors face in achieving acceptable productivity while maintaining a safe environment.


The Root Cause :

Have a look at the variability in Run of Mine (ROM) production in the image below (this is an actual example of mine production data). The left side of this graph is typical for most mines-daily ROM production is well below the budgeted target, and variability is high. It is unusual for the mine plan to stay intact for more than a few days under these circumstances. In this environment, managers and supervisors must continually adjust their plans and reallocate resources, shortening the planning horizon.

Work becomes difficult and planning becomes less effective in ensuring the system's safety. In some cases, the environment is such that workers and managers use the term "firefighting" to describe their experience. Managerial attention span gets overloaded which forces reactive decisions aimed at solving immediate problems.

Under these conditions, safety initiatives such as Safety 2 and High Reliability Organisations struggle to deliver. In Safety 2, a prime area of focus is to identify areas and times when work is difficult and to improve the ease of getting work done. For HRO organisations, managers need to develop "chronic unease" and always be on the lookout for changing conditions and potential problems. It is a difficult ask of managers having to keep many balls in the air.


What should we do?:

As shown on the right, we need to intervene in operations to ensure that the variability reduces while output increases. This requires counterintuitive actions- the bottleneck alone should be managed for maximum efficiency, and the remaining operations departments need protective (excess) capacity. Our 20 years of experience show that when the mine achieves "superflow in a spirit of calmness", the safety performance immediately improves. We now have predictability and stability; this removes the pressure on supervisors at month and year-end to try to force more work through the system than what it can safely cope with. The mine plan has a much longer shelf life, planning is more effective, and managers can delegate responsibility with much lower risk.

The managerial span of attention expands, and management can practice "Chronic Unease" and spend time addressing situations that make the flow of work difficult. The ideal conditions for implementing Safety 2 and HRO systems are set in this environment.

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