Safety awareness programmes need to be more than just lip service to be effective. At the core of any good safety programme is a carefully considered and planned educational process which addresses basic shortcomings and gaps in personnel knowledge and understanding.

Allan Widlake, business development director at Murray & Roberts Cementation, said: “We take safety very seriously. This means that we invest in a strategic and formalised manner in the upskilling of our people to acceptable levels of competency.”

From a low base in November 2005, Murray & Roberts Cementation established a training academy at Bentley Park near Carletonville which is today considered the largest mining contracting facility dedicated to the training of in-house personnel in the country.

Widlake said: “We are the only training academy in the mining industry that is ISO 9001:2000, ISO 14001:2004 and OHSAS 18001:1999 accredited and we also have MQA accreditation which means that we now have a licence to train in the mining industry. These qualifications are recognised and portable throughout both the industry and the country.”

The training academy is increasing its complement of accredited trainers from 12 up to 18. All training is outcomes-based, facilitated by an instructor, and each candidate is assessed by a registered assessor, with 10% of all assessments moderated to ensure consistent standards.

Alan Kolesky, senior training manager at Murray & Roberts Cementation, said: “I must emphasise that we only train Murray & Roberts employees. We do not train for the industry, which means that this process is not driven by ‘bums on seats’. It is not production line training but rather concentrates on the quality of trainees we empower.”

The e-learning system allows fast tracking of learners, updating of skills and standard training in a quiet controlled environment.

Kolesky said: “We can train 300 people at the centre at one time and we have expanded our on-site accommodation to cater for 230 people. Full catering facilities are available to feed the learners each day.

“With the number of women involved in mining showing a marked increase, we have set up facilities to accommodate them at the academy. We can currently accommodate 24 and we are in the process of completing another 24 accommodation modules. We train women on hard skills as well as general mining.”

Kolesky said: “We are only required to have ISO 9000 accreditation but we have gone the extra mile to retain the other accreditations and this is mirrored by the importance we place on training. The diversified nature of our operations means we want to do more than what the Skills Development Act requires. We push the boundaries as we cannot afford to stagnate.”

Kolesky says that all training within the company is managed from Bentley Park. He said: “Even if we physically train people on other sites, every aspect of the training is controlled through this facility because of our insistence on quality, consistency and legal compliance.”

Murray & Roberts Cementation has constructed a range of mock-up mining training facilities at Bentley Park which simulate most mining activities, including conventional mining and shaft sinking activities.

The four shaft-sinking mock-ups vary in depth from 6m to 15m, and have been conventionally sunk and slyped. The first mock-up is used for breaking, lowering and lining up of the curb ring; the second for shaft construction training; the third for grab lashing and 630 loader lashing training; and the fourth for drill rig training. Kolesky said: “To date we have used mock-ups to train for two different projects.”

Kolesky said: “We have brought in established mock-ups for the group plant training, and we have also set up a raise drilling machine in the training centre for practical hands on training for new raise drill operators.”

Kolesky explained: “We also set up a training facility to train engineering servicemen at a level two qualification and the first two pilot programmes have been run. We have four staff members, with a section of the workshop plus a dedicated LHD, for that purpose.”

Kolesky said: “We have the biggest underground LHD fleet in the country at Kroondal and in line with our strategy of upskilling people and as a part of the operational requirements we have invested in LHD simulators. The LHD operators are screened on the simulator on returning from leave and all new operators are also Dover tested.” One simulator is currently operational at Kroondal and one is housed at Bentley Park, but is portable and can be transported to other regional contract sites for training.

A typical simulator allows driving and operating within a three-dimensional environment under “real” operating conditions and includes a portable cab with all the controls and gauges found in an LHD.

Simulators have the advantage of allowing training 24/7, which means that more people will receive the skills more quickly. Training capacity can be tripled using the simulator, at a pace which is regulated by the learner rather than the instructor.

Hours completed on the simulator will be classed as notional practical hours, which allow employees to become certified in safe operation and actively placed in the workplace at a faster rate than with conventional training methods.

Kolesky sayid: “The simulator tends to eliminate human error and allows training of employees into positions for career development.”

Through a risk assessment programme, Murray & Roberts Cementation determined risks associated with handling mining equipment, and these have been built into the software programme running the simulators.

Kolesky said: “Together with Deloitte & Touche we have developed an E-Learning package to meet the new requirements pertaining to explosive regulations. This training is ongoing for all persons that handle, store, use or transport explosives as the legislation has changed quite significantly and requires that all these people complete the skills training programme.

“We introduced the package in July last year and it is now a registered MQA outcomes based skills programme. In the past, training incorporated a theoretical and practical aspect and involved a lot of team based training, whereby people were passed out in teams. E-learning is a new form of training and involves total individual competency. This means that the learner needs to obtain 100% for the underpinning knowledge section and then in the practical must be able to demonstrate all the outcomes in the unit standard.”

Kolesky added: “This new methodology means that we have individualised training with the work station linked directly to the programme with a printout of the results being instantaneously available.”

Kolesky explained: “E-Learning is the essential knowledge component for competent persons A and B as well as blasting assistants. Competent person A is one who declares the workplace safe; competent person B includes any person who installs or removes and maintains support, and blasting assistants handle, use and transport explosives.”

One of the biggest advantages of E-Learning is that entry into training can happen any day of the week at any time of the day. The learner continues to work at their own pace simply by putting on their headphones and activating the programme. Kolesky said: “This means that you can pace your own learning, which is advantageous if you have, for example a graduate on the same programme as a normal labourer who has not been exposed to the terminology or literature.”

Widlake concluded: “By providing our workforce with the requisite skills needed in an often hazardous environment, we empower them to avoid risk and non-compliant situations and enhance not only their working environment but also that of everyone around them while at the same time improving productivity levels.”