Making mining safer

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Miner safety is of paramount importance in 2014, with the death toll down on previous years, it is however still vitally important for preventative measures to be adhere to, for the long term benefit of staff that are exposed to harsh working conditions.

One such leader in site safety and communications, to electrical, maintenance products, coatings for protection and advanced materials in mining is global powerhouse 3M. With USD 30 billion in sales, 3M employs 88,000 people worldwide and produces more than 55,000 products, including: adhesives, abrasives, laminates, passive fire protection, dental products, electronic materials, medical products to name a few.

In South Africa the 3M Global Mining and Metallurgy Solutions team works with leading mining companies to improve productivity, increase profitability and support sustainability. Gregory Simpson, caught up with 3M's Director for Mining & Metallurgy Solution, Henk Beukman and Len Moult - Business Leader - Middle East Africa at 3M Safety & Graphics Group in Cape Town recently.

Please talk about the importance of miner safety and the role 3M plays in promoting this.

Henk Beukman: This is really a passion of mine, and of the 3M Company. And that is why we are leading suppliers of personal protection and we’re especially very good at those hazards that work against the health of people slowly. So especially respiratory and hearing protection are things that are often forgotten, conveniently or because of ignorance. And it’s those things that actually hurt people a lot in their later lives. Simply because people are not aware enough, and there’s not enough regulation, and therefore there’s a generation of people that will end up with a very bad life after their work, because they can’t hear anymore, because they do not have energy to work etc.

So that is something that we want to bring to the government in Africa, try and get as much help as possible. We met somebody from Ivory Coast this morning, and we will bring that knowledge and we’ll offer that knowledge, not to say use our projects, but to say use our knowledge. We can give you education, there’s a lot of education that we give on site, to make people aware.

How do you get pit workers to actually make sure that they are using protective gear for eight hours, during hot working conditions?

Henk Beukman: Exactly. Now I always tell people the most affordable thing is what we’re doing right here, the temperature is reasonable, the air is okay, we don’t have to wear anything, that’s how we’re made. So never ever compare what you’re wearing, and your comfort level with what it is normally when you’re at home. That’s the first thing to really understand. Then the second thing is to really understand what you are doing to protect yourself. So you need to get an understanding of the workers themselves, to really go through the effort of doing it. And then the third thing will be if you then wear it, wear the right product, meaning a product that really protects you, because there are also products out there that don’t.

And that’s where we are really strong in our product development, as you need to wear a product that reaches maximum breathing comfort, minimising sweating, and that’s why we have a big range of different solutions, because people are different, they have different faces, different air canals, different whatever. So that’s where we help people out to be as comfortable as possible. But it will never be the same as wearing nothing. It’s like why do you wear a helmet on a motorcycle, it’s not the nicest thing to do, certainly not when you’re in Cape Town in 30 degrees, you want to be free, and the wind through your hair, but people start to understand by now that if you crash, you need to protect yourself, and that’s what we’re teaching people.

So the decision you make today effect many years down the line?

Len Moult: Exactly. I was going to make the statement, we’re not about quick survival things, we’re about managing a 20 year life because that’s when it start hitting you, the day you retire, then you start feeling the effects of your workload. Research and Development for us is critical as a company, that’s who we are, that’s what 3M stands for, that’s where they start, so every year somewhere between 5% to 7% of sales - depending on the business - goes back into R&D. And that’s how we keep that revenue stream coming.

One of the products that we’ll launch late this year is a reusable respirator, but when they developed it, it was great, but the problem was post implementation - it was hard to release. So 3M went back to the drawing board and they are now releasing one with a quick release. And it’s just those little things that we constantly innovating on products that we’ve got out there, plus bringing new technologies to this market. One of the things that 3M wants to do more of is to actually design products specifically for the mining industry, because of the conditions that we find in countries like South Africa, like what they experience in Africa and the Middle East, huge temperatures, for the challenges of the mining industry are severe.

There must be a lot of similarities with the aerospace sector as well, between trying to put a man on Mars and to put someone 5km underground?

Henk Beukman: That’s the key story, and what we’re finding, which is good, is that the big players in the industry are starting to open up, for this kind of thinking. If you would have talked to most companies five years ago, you say, “What can you learn from the automotive industry”, the average mine manager would say, “Nothing, because we’re special and different.” If you don’t work in mining don’t tell us any issues. When I go and talk to them, one of the first questions I often get is, “Are you a mining engineer Henk?” And if I say no, and I do because I’m an honest man, and they would find out very quickly by the way, but if I say no, you can see their energy goes down a little bit, and you have to work a bit harder to get them back into your conversation, because that’s the way the world works in mining. But if you really can bring them solutions, and give them the wow effect, “Wow this really helps, and this really is an impact on our safety and productivity” then of course you’ve got a friend for life.

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Issue 42