Mock-ups and computer-aided training to enhance productivity and ensure safety

Additional shaft mock-ups, a multimedia education centre, and two new mining equipment simulators are planned for the Murray & Roberts Cementation Training Academy at its premises in Bentley Park near the town of Carletonville on the West Rand.

The academy was established in November, 2005, to provide employees with company induction and special skills training. The company has allocated a further R15,3 million for capital projects to set up facilities for training purposes in 2007.

A new two-week old computer learning facility and four planned shaft mock-ups will augment the academy, ultimately improving adherence to best practice methodology and ensuring employee health and safety on the job.

The computer centre is equipped with 50 workstations loaded with a theoretical skills training multi-media package specially developed by Deloitte. Training instructor Francois Marais believes that 50 computers will more than accommodate the scheduled number of teams who will use the centre to complete competent persons tests A and B, as well educate themselves about basic safety protocols and the risk of HIV/Aids.

Marais is one of 12 instructors at the centre. A further eighteen will be employed over the next 18 months. All unit standard, outcomes-based training conducted at Murray & Roberts adheres to the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) framework.

Conventional mining mock-ups in varying stages of completion have been built in the training yard and are available 24 hours a day for trainees to improve their practical competence. Drilling, winch operating, load haul dumping and underground engineering are just some of the skills that can be demonstrated on the mock rails, stopes, tunnels, decline shafts and soon vertical shaft mock-ups.

Four mock shafts will be sunk, varying in depth from 6m to 15m, to train sinking crews in different real-world activities. These include, respectively, breaking, lowering and lining up of the curb ring; shaft construction; grab lashing and 630 loader lashing training; and drill rig training.

The shaft sinking will go ahead a little later than initially planned, explains training manager Manie Bekker. Murray & Roberts is awaiting final approval from the Dolomite Board, owing to problematic substrata on the proposed site. This has necessitated a full geological assessment. The extensions to the training centre should hopefully still be completed and operational by August 2007.
Alan Kolesky adds that this is the first time that this type of mock-up is being done in South Africa.

The rationale behind building full-scale mock-ups for conventional mining and shaft sinking simulation is to skill employees in a controlled environment free of noise, environmental hostility or the pressure of production targets. It will also use actual shaft equipment currently lying idle in the yard.

"We can control the pace of the learning, and facilitate and moderate the process," senior training manager Alan Kolesky explains.

"This is an ideal environment where we can show the worker the correct standards, which may not be observed in a given production environment," adds Bekker.

The company has also ordered two loading, hauling and dumping (LHD) cab simulators from ThoroughTec, of Durban, a company that has built over 300 simulator units for customers worldwide over in the past 20 years. Murray & Roberts expects delivery in six months.

LHD operators can then be trained under troublesome or accident-prone operating or driving conditions, as identified by company risk assessments. When confronted by these hypothetical simulated conditions in the real working-environment, the operators are better prepared to take the correct actions to prevent injury or death.

The simulators will assist the company in training its employees up to three times faster. With three dedicated instructors available around the clock, Kolesky explains, employees can quickly accumulate the requisite number of notional practical hours they need to achieve competency.

Meanwhile, Murray & Robert’s machines can remain in production. The company has 120 LHDs operating at Kroondaal alone.

One simulator will be kept at Bentley Park. The other can be transported with a facilitator to a distant area of operation. There it will be used to train those members of the indigenous workforce hired from the immediate locality and whom the company is obliged to empower in terms of Department of Labour requirements.

Murray & Roberts’ social labour plan makes provision for the employment of up to 80% of non-migrant, localised labour in its operations.
A clearly-defined social development and workplace skills plan not only uplifts mining communities but entitles the company to claim back from government the 50% of the 1% skills levy paid on all wages.

"Being a world-class company, we want to go beyond just meeting the minimum legislative requirements," Kolesky maintains. "We strive to be better than and different to our competitors."

On site training facilities can be costly to maintain. But Murray & Roberts is confident that it has the economy of scale and an important portfolio of upcoming projects that will justify its academy and put the company ahead of its competitors. Murray & Roberts anticipates that the company will have 15 sinking sites in South Africa over the next five years.

"Everybody who works for or carries out subcontracting work for Murray & Roberts is deemed to be an employee at the company and receives the same training," says Kolesky. The company has an obligation to ensure the competence of all staff engaged in dangerous work. "Productivity and safety are the outcomes of training," he says.

Murray & Roberts is the first contracting company in the South African mining industry to record two million consecutive fatality-free shifts. It achieved this milestone on August 12, 2006.

"Safety has always been a major focus for the company and this significant achievement underscores our commitment to identifying 'at risk behaviour’ timeously and ensuring a safe, productive working environment," says MD Henry Laas.