The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA), which came into force in May 2004, provides the regulatory framework for South Africa‘s mining and minerals industry. Mining companies are adopting new, more sustainable approaches. South Africa is no exception, with several mines taking world-leading approaches to environmental and community sustainability. Adopting these practices will not only benefit the environment and local communities, but also would also contribute to mining’s long-term viability.
Mining for good health – A case study
Exxaro coal mine situated in Mpumalanga has protocols in place for the future of their workers and the communities they come from. Exxaro has ongoing initiatives to combat TB and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment thus ensuring that workers remain in good health. Their current health offerings include HIV/AIDS awareness training and testing, X-rays, hearing and lung function tests as well as DNA analysis and health coaching. Importantly, these services are in line with the United Nations #Envision2030 Goal of Good Health and Well-being aimed at ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases by 2030.
Mental health and substance abuse also form part of these services where they offer general counselling to address depression, addiction and anxiety. As part of this employee assistance programme, the practice provides advice, counselling and treatment plans to strengthen the prevention and treatment of these diseases. The overall approach to health and well-being is based on three pillars namely: Diagnose, Manage and Prevent. During diagnosis the focus is on extending clinical tests including ECG and risk-based cancer screenings.
The ultimate vision is to have 100% of Exxaro employees receive analysis, which will make it easy to recommend disease management programmes based on the valuable data retrieved from the DNA testing in order for the employees to manage their health against certain conditions. To prevent diseases from developing or worsening, mandatory comprehensive wellness and healthy lifestyle coaching programmes are also in place. Vaccines, supplements and prophylaxes are also distributed to ensure health and well-being. Commitment to address challenges of access to quality and affordable healthcare for miners and the surrounding communities is a healthy and sustainable step to take for a sustainable mining practice.
Zero harm: Eliminating mining injuries
Exxaro has committed to the principle of zero harm, with the goal that every worker should return home unharmed every day. Zero Harm remains the key safety objective, aiming to consistently achieve this through collective responsibility, commitment and ongoing focus. On 3 March 2020 this year Exxaro celebrated a three-year fatality-free milestone.
“The safety and well-being of our people continues to be a key focus area for us. We, therefore, commit ourselves to providing the best in healthcare services to ensure that our employees are well taken care of and able to perform to the best of their abilities.” – Mxolisi Mgojo, CEO and President of the Minerals Council South Africa
Mining practices have a huge responsibility to safeguard the environment they are working in and the people working for them. Keeping a safety system aligned with its purpose and ensuring the system respond appropriately to change requires conscious effort. Risk management processes are fundamental to the Mine Safety Act. The underlying propositions of risk management is that improvements in health and safety can be made by correctly identifying and addressing hazards that contribute to occupational risk. The main components of risk management are hazard identification, risk assessment, implementation of controls, monitoring of controls, review, and adjustment or redesign of controls as necessary.
Environmentally Conscious Behaviour
The mining industry competes with other sectors for precious natural resources like land and water. In South Africa, the situation is exacerbated by a legacy of more than 100 years of mining, which has led to various environmental challenges like acid mine drainage and dust from dumps.
Environmental impacts of mining occur at local, regional, and global scales through direct and indirect mining practices. Impacts may result in erosion, sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, or the contamination of soil, groundwater, and surface water by the chemicals emitted from mining processes. Exxaro has invested in a wind farm situated in Eastern Cape which supplies approximately 450 559MWh of electricity a year to Eskom’s electricity network and is expected to offset approximately 445 152 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year from the atmosphere and over the past five years the mine reduced its greenhouse gas (GMG) emissions by 17% per copper equivalent unit.
Mining companies have six main emission reduction levers at their disposal and should try to work several simultaneously. For example, European steel players are investigating processes to avoid, reduce, and reuse CO2 emissions. They ‘avoid’ through innovative replacement of carbon with hydrogen from water electrolysis. They “reduce” by adopting more CO2 efficient technologies. And they ‘reuse’ by utilising process gasses for chemical products, such as bioethanol, fertilizer, synthetic fuel and polymers. While many mining companies have programmes aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil-fuel burning several have taken additional steps and focused on process innovation – including the extraction of lithium with less energy-intensive and contaminating processes for lithium mines.
Exxaro is also committed to using water as efficiently as possible. Their Grootegeluk Mine has constructed cyclic ponds that reclaim all water and material from the mine’s fines complex and Matla coal mine uses desalination technology to convert water from its underground mine into drinking water. In doing so, Matla has released over 3 million kilolitres of safe water into the Olifants catchment. Mining practices should never have to do it alone. The right partners can bring valuable expertise and capital to develop and accelerate new technologies, which in turn can help the company respond faster to market changes.
Mining charter III targets
One of the targets of Mining Charter III is its support for supplier development in South Africa, which aims to grow and transform the local mining supply chain. The Mining Charter stipulates that a minimum of 70% (by value) of mining goods must be manufactured or assembled in South Africa – this requires that at least 60% local content be used during manufacture or assembly. The Mining Charter further states that goods must be procured in line with a standardised product identification coding system developed by the Department of Trade and Industry:
“Mining Charter 3 has been amended to introduce the requirements for locally manufactured mining goods, with a view to leverage procurement capacity of domestic mining to create a market of locally manufactured goods.” – Xolile Mbonambi, Department of Mineral Resources representative at the launch of Mining Charter III
It is clear that mining is a sector undergoing deep transformation. The use of hybrid power solutions at mines is set to increase, while investment will continue to be driven by innovation in green technology. Mining companies are in the unique position of needing to find their own solutions to green energy whilst being a key component in the supply chain for new low-carbon technology. Finding nimble solutions, such as hybrids or micro grids, provides companies with the agility needed to respond to the quickly-evolving energy landscape. It is worth noting that the sector is playing an important role in the transition to a lower-carbon economy.