Murray & Roberts Cementation Zambia is 19 months into a major contract, awarded in July 2011, for the shaft sinking and equipping of the synclinorium shaft for Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) in Kitwe, Zambia. The main sink began in May 2012 and the shaft has now reached the 700m mark. Project completion is scheduled for June 2015.

This is the second biggest contract awarded to Murray & Roberts Cementation Zambia and the first awarded to the company by MCM. In 2010 the company was awarded a decline sinking project at Konkola North, a joint venture between Vale and African Rainbow Minerals.

MCM, an integrated copper and cobalt producer operating in the Zambian copperbelt, is owned by Carlisa Investments Corporation, a joint venture registered in Zambia comprising Glencore International AG (73.1%), First Quantum Minerals Ltd (16.9%) and ZCCM Investment Holdings (10%). Its operations comprise underground mines, concentrator plants, smelters and refineries located in Nkana, Kitwe and Mufulira.

The Mopani Synclinorium shaft project will establish a hoisting and ventilation facility to extract ore from the Nkana Synclinorium ore body which is incorporated into the MCM complex in Kitwe, Zambia. The new shaft will enable ore production at the Nkana mines to be maintained above 4Mtpa by 2017 and increase the life of mine by 25 years.

Murray & Roberts Cementation project manager, Neil Mackay, says site establishment began in September 2011 with pre-sink civil work provided by Murray & Roberts group company, Concor Civils.

The original contract called for blind sinking, equipping and commissioning of the 7m diameter downcast rock hoist shaft to a depth of 1,277m. This main shaft will be equipped as a rock hoisting shaft on the brownfields mine to service a new area under development. Murray & Roberts Cementation Zambia has also been awarded the pre-sink contract to a depth of 50m of an associated 6m diameter upcast ventilation shaft that will reach a depth of 1,166m.

The shaft is being sunk by drilling and blasting with support provided by mesh and bolts. The lining will be installed using the Canadian shutter method that uses admixtures to self-level the concrete and ensure that there is no honeycombing. This method was chosen because it was deemed to be a safer approach and represents the latest trend in shaft sinking globally. It has already been used by Murray & Roberts Cementation for other recent shaft sinking projects andits sister company in Canada has been assisting local teams with the process of skills transfer to make this the company’s shaft sinking method of choice in the future.

Mackay says a unique feature of this project is that the first Murray & Roberts Cementation e-learning computer training centre has been established outside South Africa.

"Our main training academy is at Bentley Park near Carletonville in South Africa and all our expatriate site personnel are trained there before being deployed to projects outside the country," he explains. "However, we identified the need for a satellite training centre in Zambia to instruct our local personnel. We’ve installed a bank of ten PCs complete with headsets and e-learning training comprises a full set of procedures for each job category – for example, the engineering sinking crew. Each person works through the relevant set of procedures and is required to complete a test at the end of the session. Those who don’t achieve a 100% pass rate on this test must start again from the beginning until they do.

"Safety procedures are an important component of this training and we’ve just rolled out the STOP.THINK.ACT.24/7 approach that emphasises the importance of taking action to correct unsafe conditions and behaviour while giving recognition to positive behaviour. ’24/7′ highlights the need to be safety-aware at all times, both at work and after hours. All shifts begin with a safety talk and we encourage the local personnel to run these meetings according to a given agenda. Every person entering the site must also pass a breathalyser test."

Mackay says the core of senior Zambian supervisors in the sinking crew were flown to South Africa where they spent six weeks at Bentley Park going through the actual sinking procedures that will be applied at MCM on mock-up shafts. He believes this transfer of practical and theoretical knowledge will also prove beneficial for the Zambian mining community in the future.

The current MCM project team comprises 32 Murray & Roberts Cementation personnel and between 200 and 300 local recruits including mine captains, shift supervisors and persons in charge, as well as artisans and general labourers.

Murray & Roberts Cementation Zambia is poised to establish an office in Kitwe, Zambia which will centralise all project administration, provide a workshop and storage facility and a permanent base for the e-learning training centre.