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Manage health, safety, environmental and social risks

Taking a systematic and integrated approach to manage health, safety, environmental and social risks is essential for effective management and to ensure all possible risks are considered and managed in a holistic way.

Using an internationally recognised standard as a basis for a company’s own HSEC system is a useful starting point as they tend to provide a comprehensive set of minimum norms expected from such a system. However, many mining organisations go above and beyond the standards set out.

A common risk management approach is set out in ISO31001. The process consists of several iterative steps:

  • Communication and consultation.
  • Defining the scope, context and risk criteria:
    • Risk assessment (including risk identification, analysis and evaluation).
  • Risk treatment (eg what controls are going to be put in place).
  • Recording and reporting.
  • Monitoring and review.

Strengthening operational capacity

All risks have specific ways to be controlled or their impacts mitigated. Within health and safety, risks are being managed concurrently in two distinct spheres of control.

The first addresses events of low consequence but high frequency (eg a fall resulting in a bruised knee) and those that are of high consequence, but low frequency – specifically those injuries and illnesses that can result in the loss of life. Managing these risks requires the implementation of controls.

The system follows a hierarchy of controls, where there are decreasing measures of effectiveness for dealing with an identified risk, depending on how practical it is to implement. These are:

  1. Elimination. (Can the hazard be physically removed?)
  2. Substitution. (Can the hazard be replaced with another material or process that is less hazardous?)
  3. Isolation. (Separating the hazard or hazardous work practice from employees’ other work areas.)
  4. Engineering. (Designing and/or adding physical safety features to plant or equipment.)
  5. Administration. (Training, procedures and approvals, safety signage installed.)
  6. Personal protective equipment (PPE) (The provision of safety glasses, goggles, hard hats, respirators etc.)

This hierarchy is also utilised in critical control management.

The second focuses on the proactive actions and behaviours that may be exercised by the mining industry to help eliminate the risk of incidents. Leaders – from CEOs to the frontline supervisors – are particularly vital as they set the tone for others in the organization to follow. A visible commitment to health and safety at all levels of an organisation is essential.

The progressive approach is not solely concerned with reducing injury and illness; it embraces a holistic concept of wellbeing. Moreover, community health and worker health are intimately related where disease can spread quickly from and to the workplace. Therefore, employee and community health care programmes are often prominent in corporate social investment portfolios of companies.