Many mining companies have radically improved their safety performance in recent years, as measured by lost time, injury frequency rates and similar measures.
However, unwanted events still occur. These include incidents such as underground fires, coal dust explosions, fall of ground and over-exposure to harmful substances. Incidents that can lead to debilitating injuries, fatalities or rarer catastrophic impacts on people and the environment.
Investigations, after the fact, typically show that controls for known risks were not effectively implemented. Often as a result of dense and complex safety management systems and hazard management plans or procedures that prove to be difficult to implement or lack clarity as to which controls are most important.
To prevent fatal and catastrophic events from occurring – the critical controls must be clearly defined and understood, with clarity as to who is responsible for implementation. A critical control management approach is an effective way of achieving this, by focusing risk-management on those controls that are most critical for health and safety.
The critical control management approach requires:
- clarity on which controls really matter (ie critical controls)
- understanding of what these controls need to do to prevent an undesired event from happening
- decisions on what checks are needed to ensure that controls are working as intended
- accountability for the implementation of the controls (ie who is responsible for making it work?)
- reporting on the performance of all critical controls.
Ideally, this is a nine-step process that should include planning, implementation, performance evaluation and remedy, with a number of feedback loops integrated to improve robustness.
More details can be found in ICMM’s 'Health and Safety Critical Control Management: Good practice guidance' and 'Critical Control Management: Implementation Guide'. It’s important to note that the guidance does not specify which controls to implement – as these can vary from project to project -- but it does lay out the process for identifying the controls, and what elements need to be in place to ensure they are effective.
The majority of ICMM member companies are in the process of assessing the guidance with a view to how best to embed it into their daily practice. The approach is also being adopted more widely by mining operations outside of the ICMM membership. As an industrial activity mining is often hazardous but through implementation of a critical control management approach, the mining and metals industry is better positioned to prevent fatal and catastrophic events from happening.