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Anglo American is one of the world’s biggest mining companies, with over 50 globally dispersed operating entities and a 100,000-strong workforce engaged in exploration, mining, processing, transport, and marketing of bulk commodities, base and precious metals and diamonds.

Mike Parker – a safety and environmental professional with over thirty years of international experience in the energy, oil and gas, nuclear, and extractive industries – has been in charge of overseeing safety, risk, and assurance activities across the company for over three- years. This article was produced in association with Carroll Technologies Group.

What is your approach to managing health and safety training and best practice within Anglo American?

Mike Parker (MP): Our approach involves five strategic imperatives: passionate leadership, resilient management systems, effective risk management, rapid organisational learning, and an engaged workforce.

Our leaders openly and visibly demonstrate an unrelenting commitment to safety; hazards are proactively identified and risk-assessed and managed on an on-going basis.

Training and development is largely managed through a Learning Management System. And we are currently exploring the use of an artificial intelligence knowledge cloud to facilitate continuous personalised learning. We have found the platform is exceptional for sharing learnings and best practices amongst interested professionals.

Furthermore, knowledge and best practice are also shared during our Global Safety Forum collaboration sessions, and amongst operational general managers during CEO High Potential Incident review meetings.

Overall, we seek to institutionalise this information, by agreeing on global actions and tracking progress against these actions, using our Action Tracking module within our SHE information management system.

In your opinion, what developments have had the biggest impact on mine safety?

MP: From my perspective, two items stand out. First, the movement away from traditional and manually intensive mining to conventional or more mechanised mining.  Although the transition has brought about a new set of hazards and risks, which require active management, no one can question the safety gains.

The second is a shift in culture.  Historically, safety and productivity were viewed as competing objectives, and safety incidents were considered to be the fault of an individual.  Now, safety and productivity are complimentary, and we have a much broader view of incident causation, where root causes are considered to be at the organisational level.

What new threats have arisen in recent years that are tough to tackle? 

MP: Technological advancements and innovation, among other things, have made mines safer. However, with them come new hazards and risks.  These include a potential material risk related to governance of electronic control logic and cognitive fatigue.

For example, consider programmable logic controllers, a relatively simple technology used to control everything from haul trucks and conveyors to processing plants and winding house drive motors.  One erroneous dual in-line package switch setting or an undocumented or flawed logic change could be catastrophic.

Also, given how highly-automated operations now are, cognitive overload and the fatigue of control room operators is another potential emerging concern.  We do have systems, processes, and procedures in place to manage these risks, but – as with all safety related matters – they can keep you up at night.

How often do you assess your processes and equipment and look to invest in new ones?

MP: Operations, processes, and equipment are continuously assessed and evaluated.  If a need is identified, it is immediately addressed or planned for in our CAPEX budgeting process.

In terms of future and new developments to make mines safer, advancing technology – coupled with data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence – will, I believe, have a major impact on safety.  I’m looking forward to the “Intelligent Mine” which, for Anglo American, is not in the too distant future.

What are Anglo American’s plans for improving safety going forward?

MP: For us, we are taking a more strategic approach.  We are focused on unconditional safety; engaging all employees in every discipline to become the best safety leader they can. As well as ensuring we have robust, higher-order control strategies in place for all fatal risks.

We are aligning our reward and performance management programs to ensure we have no unintended consequences, so work is properly planned and executed. We also aim to continuously build organisational capability in safety leadership and risk management.

Mining Technology’s Mining Safety content is supported by USA mining safety specialists Carroll Technologies Group.