Murray & Roberts Cementation is currently engineering a new shaft sinking methodology for its African operations that will see an increase in the safety and productivity of shaft sinking project teams.

“Innovative organisations do not wait for things to break before they fix them,” says Tim Wakefield, technical director at Murray & Roberts Cementation. “They are constantly seeking better ways of doing things even when everything is running smoothly. They instinctively know that operational innovation is an ongoing process to solve both current and possible future problems, and that the real challenge is not only technical but increasingly about behaviours.”

The company has already engineered a base case for the new methodology for shaft sinking. “The importance of a base case is that it is a starting point from which we can look at alternatives and associated risk profiles,” Wakefield says. “Engineered solutions must beat the challenge of those who have to implement them, must be totally supported by top management, constitute a business case, and be beneficial to our clients. Developed concepts are subjected to internal local and international peer reviews and once optimised we will be able to start detailed engineering and modelling of this methodology. In this instance, the first time based model was completed at the end of January 2010.”

Increasing worker safety

According to Wakefield, this is an engineered methodology rather than an evolutionary advancement and it is definitely not a reactive or random process. “Key to successful implementation will be the organisation design that best suits this way of sinking,” he explains. “As the focus on OHS in mines continues to gather momentum, we are forced through our own values and market pressure to work outside of our comfort zone to find ways of increasing worker safety.”

Wakefield adds: “A freshly engineered methodology will achieve this by critically examining each person’s role
and physical location in the shaft barrel, replacing large numbers of unskilled labour with smaller numbers of multi-skilled people willing to carry out both menial and skilled tasks. The reduction in the human footprint will naturally lend itself to enhanced OHS, better employee teamwork and greater engagement with their tasks.

“We realise that completing the first project with this methodology and organisational structure will require a major mindset shift for all stakeholders, but we are confident that the pressure exerted by OHS concerns, combined with the need to adopt inventiveness in tough times, will make this a welcome relief for the market.

“We have no doubt that our competitors will rapidly mobilise their technical and human resources staff to deliver with similar methodologies, but by being the leaders we believe that we will be providing an invaluable service to the industry and our pro-activity will spur others to also contribute positively. Competition is healthy because it drives us to stay one step ahead by leveraging off our extensive experience in and knowledge of the industry.”