Our people-first policy ensures safety is at the forefront of our thinking
Gem Diamonds’ foremost priority is employee and contractor safety. We built our workplace safety and zero harm culture on the principle of mutually responsible care with collaborative efforts by the entire workforce and through diligently implementing our stringent safety protocols.
At the onset of the pandemic, we established a centrally managed on-site COVID-19 taskforce. We then ensured safe working environments at each operation by introducing strict and immediate COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols and rapid testing. We are proud of the results of our continuing efforts to safeguard our workforce’s health and well-being.
We established a three-tier ring of defence to keep the virus off the mine:
Step one of our defence programme involved ensuring employees and contractors entering the mine were screened through rapid antibody tests before being transported to the mine. This meant that a high proportion of COVID-19 cases were detected before they could reach the mine. If employees tested positive, they would self-isolate at home or receive medical treatment if required.
Step two mandated that all employees and contractors receive a medical check-up at the Letšeng clinic before entering the mine, where a second rapid test was administered – coupled with a temperature, taste, and smell test. If there was an indication that an employee had any COVID-19 symptoms, a full polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test was conducted. Those employees who tested positive were then kept in isolation to prevent the virus from being imported onto the mine.
Our COVID-19 strategy has enabled us to safely and responsibly operate the mine and protect our workforce.
Our new safety turnaround strategy
To achieve our goal of zero harm, we need to minimise the safety risks faced by our workforce and reinvent the way we embed safe and responsible work within the organisation. We work tirelessly to ensure our people's safety, and always drive safety awareness at all our operations.
In 2019 we experienced one fatality and seven lost time injuries (LTIs). We believed that our safety record needed to be improved, and we adopted a safety turnaround strategy in 2020. Our extensive work (detailed below) resulted in a significantly enhanced safety performance as we achieved our lowest all injury frequency rate (AIFR) in a decade.
We continue driving safety awareness without losing focus or momentum. We mandate that every safety incident and near miss is reported, with the appropriate investigations and actions implemented to prevent any future incidents.
Furthermore, we implemented a 10-step focused improvement programme that includes the following:
To mitigate risk, we must first understand it. We undertook a review and update of our operational baseline risk assessments in each department and emphasised the importance of risk assessments before routine or non-routine activities. Our workforce was trained in the ‘bow-tie’ method of assessing risks. This method is a user-friendly and accessible way of understanding and managing risk to empower people to take ownership of risk assessments.
Critical tasks carry an especially significant risk of injury. These have detailed standard work procedures (SWPs) to be followed in every instance. We reviewed tasks classified as critical, adding additional tasks to the list. We rolled out an intensified planned task observation campaign that involved closely observing tasks performed alongside supervisors, accompanied by a discussion of safety, relevant risks and possible ways of improving systems. Additionally, consequence management procedures were strengthened, further emphasising our zero-tolerance approach to procedural transgressions. We were able to improve compliance with SWPs through awareness campaigns, and internal audits and consequence management protocols.
We classify management involvement as visible, unwavering leadership, with a culture of adherence and zero compromise that we instil in all employees. We implemented a programme comprising numerous measures directly aimed at supporting and developing safety leadership.
Measures include, among others:
public commitments to zero tolerance by senior management;
an HSE fact finding workshop for senior management to address the past negative trends in HSE performance;
improvements in risk assessment processes;
a continuous improvement (CI) process; and
visible felt leadership campaigns.
Furthermore, our visible felt leadership (VFL) programme encourages open engagement with employees. It focuses on minor incidents and near misses because it is through the continuous reporting of minor incidents and near misses that there is a full understanding of risk. We instituted section-specific schedules for training on SWPs and devised HSE dashboards for heads of departments (HODs) and site managers.
HODs and site managers hold monthly reviews with the HSE Manager, and quarterly reviews with the Chief Operations Officer (COO) to assess safety performance and identify areas for improvement.
We conducted training on HSE roles and responsibilities in October 2020 for all leadership and HSE practitioner.
Our safety incident response initiative focuses on how we respond to and investigate our most significant risks. In 2020 we identified five key risks, namely transportation, pit safety, struck-by incidents, slips and trips, and safety in lifting operations. Safety procedures were updated following reviews of our management approach within these key risks. An overcheck system was implemented to ensure frequent assessments of the effectiveness of new risk mitigation strategies.
Life saving rules are processes governing actions that carry a high risk of serious injury if procedures are incorrectly followed. We ran awareness and education campaigns focusing on our life saving rules to encourage people to take ownership of these rules. Existing workforce engagement forums, such as toolbox talks, were leveraged to continuously embed the lifesaving rules and their application on site.
Our life saving rules were also included in the ‘RCAT and Five Why’ investigation reports. These reports use the root cause analysis technique to determine if there were any repeat incidents related to these rules.
We strengthened incident reporting and action management to focus on root causes and link incidents to remedial action. An incident investigation that does not lead to actionable, effective improvements is considered insufficient. HODs have weekly presentations on all remedial actions taken in their departments and are visibly accountable to other HODs, general managers and the health and safety department.
In 2020 we saw an improvement in incident investigations and the diligent implementation of consequence management. There has also been improvement in monitoring action management and corrective actions.
- We strengthened internal verification systems that accompany and support independent audits and inspections. A more detailed and frequent audit programme, particularly relating to high-risk areas, was rolled out in which the role of coaching and correction was emphasised.
Our behaviour-based care (BBC) programme has been the foundation of our safety practice for the past nine years, and organisational training on its importance was comprehensively updated during the year. However, we recognise that the long-term success of a programme like this carries its challenges such as complacency.
We realised the necessity of reinvigorating and ingraining the BBC programme in our day-to-day culture and elevating new programme champions. We reinstated our ‘Why We Work Safely’ poster campaign, where employees featured in the poster design; this personalises the importance of safe practices. Our new CI collaboration strategy incorporates BBC.
Our ‘5-S System’ is a robust housekeeping programme that we implemented to ensure workspaces are organised to encourage efficient, effective and safe work. We identified employee champions to drive the programme by coaching fellow employees.
We are working more closely with external medical practitioners to ensure better communication, injury management and coordination between doctors, HSE and sectional management which will ultimately ensure all injuries are adequately managed.