A mining behaviour-based safety (BBS) case study

Adriaan van der Colff unpacks some behaviour-based safety implementation experience.
Adriaan van der Colff unpacks some behaviour-based safety implementation experience.

Behaviour-based safety programmes require a paradigm shift from workers, and from management, to understand the personal and social motivations involved at work.

The function of behaviour-based safety (BBS) applications is to activate a safe mindset, and safety motivations, in designated employees. Implementation may require some intimate data, and adjustment to different sites and teams, writes mining BBS consultant Adriaan van der Colff in this mining case study.

I have often met corporate Sheq consulting teams using applied psychology-based methods to find the best methods of ‘teaching’ workers about safe behaviour.

Some of them succeed, some less well. Some BBS implementations do not account for major personal and social motivations on and off the job, and some system changes do not resolve the usual hurdles to safety behaviour.

Without taking account of the work and social environment, management could not relate safety, health, environment and quality motivations, to the personal and social motivations that affect individual and team behaviour.

Safety window-dressing is one of the main pitfalls of changes involving primarily paperwork, data, and record-keeping.

A low seam coal mining safety case study

A typical work posture at an ultra low seam mine.
A typical work posture at an ultra low seam mine.

At an ultra-low seam mine in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, the usual mechanised methods of mining were not viable in some areas.

Scraper mining, with double drum winches, wasused where the coal seam height was below 800 mm.

The harsh working conditions were a unique experience. These men and women crawled through tiny spaces, and endure long hours of arduous labour to get the coal from the seam face.

Certain drill and blast methods were used. After a blast, six workers per face, with hand shovels, moved coal into the scraper’s path.

Adouble drum winchpulled the scraper into the seam face,and pulled loads of coal onto the conveyor belt.

I made it my personal mission to get to know this team. They were an array of various personalities, and I wondered how I could experience their way of thinking, and expose them to the motivations for safety protocol.

At first, my main task was to introduce a brand new Sheq system, including new Operating Procedures, Baseline Risk Assessments, issue-basedRisk Assessments, BBS Task Observations, Code of Practice, and so on, for a new employer.

There were few basic management elements in place when the new employer took over operations, and they called me in to establish a sustainable mining safety management system.

I started with the basics; revising procedures to the latest amendments of the Mine Health and Safety Act, but I soon realised that workers and even safety reps resisted almost every change, and obstructed communication.

I had to find out what motivated them, without escalating the issue to management, and risking escalating resistance against the required paradigm shift.

I spent some days in each operation to understand the procedures, and to get to know the teams and their formal and informal leaders.

Any observation or supervision changes people’s behaviour, so I moved between the three working shifts at random, until they saw me as a kind of safety officer or rep.

Safety window-dressing is common practice

A scene at a winch mining operation.
A scene at a winch mining operation.

I found that the necessary documentation was usually in place, but workers still followed their customary practices. They were window-dressing safety.

I asked a hand-loader about his daily personal routine, and checked the basic facts. He would wake up at 3am, catch a bus, arrive at 5am, go on shift at 6am, attend briefing, walk 4.5 km underground to his section, crawl and work eight hours in very uncomfortable postures, walk back 4.5km, and take a long trip home.

His main concern was to make his daily target. Safety, and paper work, just added to the hurdles that get in the way of getting the job done.

I spent another week getting to know other workers in each department, their frustrations,and indirectly their motivations.

In each department, I found some hurdles that blocked safe behaviour, some that triggered unsafe behaviour, and some of these informal at-risk ‘procedures’ had even become routine.

The hurdles included fatigue, and social unrest that led to strife, and even led to sabotage of other working areas. Most workers did not understand the reasons for some of the newly implemented working practices. Nobody had given them the bigger picture.

Some Sheq solutions based on behavioural data

Workers welcomed the idea of adjusted shifts, with longer breaks. This allowed them to exceeded production targets, and to get better physical and psychological rest.

We also held daily training sessions in each department to demonstrate the benefits of the safety system tasks. The Lost Time Frequency Rate decreased significantly.

We introduced safety targets alongside production targets, which proved very successful.

We started a community forum to move social issues outside the workplace, and resolved some of these.

The success of any Sheq or behavioural implementation requires not only a system, but a system designed around people.

Implementation requires not only training, but also demonstrations of the benefits, and tweaks designed by the people who use the system.

Behavioural safety programmes require a paradigm shift from workers, but management often needs a paradigm shift to firstunderstand all the workplace, personal, and social conditions and motivations involved.

  • Adriaan van der Colff (Underground Blasting Certificate: Chamber of Mines; NEBOSH IGC; Safety Officer Diploma: Chamber of Mines; Project Management, Damelin), has 16 years of experience in industry, including three years in mining safety, and 13 years in BBS applications.
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