Safety and health are at the core of AngloGold Ashanti's values. A willingness to expose its safety practices to the scrutiny of independent internationally-based safety experts has always been a cornerstone of the company's safety philosophy. Most recently, Jim Torlach, a retired state mining engineer from Western Australia, and now an independent senior mining consultant based in Perth, has visited AngloGold Ashanti operations on two occasions, in September/October 2002 and in October 2004.
The following key points formed part of Torlach's first report to the Safety, Health and Sustainable Development Committee of the board following his initial visit:
- develop a culture where
- safety becomes a core value
- safety is a line responsibility;
- AngloGold Ashanti's fatality review process should be extended to cover serious injuries; and
- appropriate relationships should be developed and maintained with mining contractors.
The purpose of Torlach's recent visit was to reassess progress in these and other areas. As before, he followed a process of interviews with board directors, the chief operating officer and regional heads, validated by discussions at all levels - from senior manager to mineworker - at the operations. Regions covered included Africa, Australia and South Africa.
In South Africa particularly, Torlach's visit was preceded by a period of serious concern regarding safety following 11 fatalities in the first quarter of 2004. In a tripartite initiative between government, the unions and the company, a safety summit was held in March, followed by a major safety launch in April.
"From the outset, AngloGold Ashanti has devoted substantial resources to occupational safety," says Torlach. "On my recent visit, it was encouraging to note further practical progress. Safety was always a core value at the top, but its penetration down the line was not always evident. At operational level, for example, there was still some residual evidence that production pressures could affect the focus on safety. There is now almost no evidence of this. Managers are walking the talk by stopping production where safety may be compromised."
Torlach initially noted a tendency to ascribe responsibility for safety, health and environment to the safety department rather than to line management. As an example, he cites the findings of an attitude survey on the Malian operations: more than 50% of employees felt that safety was a specialised, non-line function. A repeat of this survey, currently being undertaken with the help of Prof. Petri Schutte of ProHuman, shows a reversal of this trend.
Torlach comments, "AngloGold Ashanti's fatality review process is a powerful and effective intervention. I suggested that this could profitably be extended to the investigation of serious injuries and this has been done." Some mines have taken the process further, and introduced investigations of minor injuries that could potentially have had serious consequences.
Torlach notes that significant progress has been made with the important issue of managing relationships with mining contractors. At Sunrise Dam, for example, management have moved from a pattern of briefing and report-back with the various contractors to one of regular interaction. "By any measure, the changes, improvements and new initiatives have been remarkable, and major progress on the primary recommendation, embedding of safety as a core value to the 'operator at the face' level, is clearly evidenced. All of the recommendations have been acted on or accounted for with due diligence."
In conclusion, comments safety manager John McEndoo, "Jim's second visit has highlighted satisfactory progress in a number of areas, and indicates that we are on the right track."