Since the establishment of the Safety in Mines Research Advisory Council (SIMRAC) in 1993, it has expended large sums of money, levied from the mines, on research to address safety and health issues in the mining industry. SIMRAC has initiated this project to assess the impact of this substantial research effort in improving safety and eliciting industry opinion about the effectiveness of the SIMRAC system, the research programmes and the use of research findings.
This research project dealt, importantly, only with safety issues and focussed only on gold and platinum mines. It was conducted amongst representatives (more than 75 personal interviews) of government, labour and mining groups and mines.
The research indicated SIMRAC as not a waste of time and money. General positives that have emerged are the strong stakeholder support for the intent of the organisation, the view that SIMPROSS, in providing a project management and administrative support function, is doing sterling work, and overall acceptance of the funding (levy) mechanism to fund industry-wide research. General problem areas include a lack of technical expertise by both labour and the Department of Minerals and Energy, a disproportionate research focus on gold relative to platinum, a generally neutral stance by stakeholders towards active participation in SIMRAC and occasionally a blurred distinction between SIMRAC and major research providers.
Mine safety is a multi-faceted issue and to isolate the unique contribution towards safety improvement of research or new technologies is very difficult. Understandably therefore, the correlation between safety improvement and research outputs was rated relatively low. To their credit, stakeholders take the blame for this ‘disconnectedness’ and the fact that only a small percentage of research output is used at all.
With the SIMRAC model in essence sound, the key question arises as to how to provide more value to the industry. Recommendations to address this aspect include:
- An in-depth analysis of research needs, which should include a greater focus on human behaviour and training.
- Platinum mines to be addressed separately.
- A significant percentage of SIMRAC funding channelled to joint projects (on a Rand-for-Rand basis), and active planning and budgeting for technology transfer/training within projects.
- Stronger project governance through project champions.
- SIMRAC accreditation schools for rock engineers, mine inspectors, safety representatives as general examples.
- Stronger linkages between research outputs and legislation, codes of practice, accident investigations and training material.
Lastly and most importantly, SIMRAC should be re-positioned (branded) amongst all its stakeholders in order that there is a shared understanding of what SIMRAC is about and what it is not, so that expectations are managed.