Fall-of-ground incidents have historically been cited as one of the leading causes of worker fatalities within the mining industry.
In an effort to reduce these incidents and improve worker safety even further, in 2022, the Mandela Mining Precinct and the Minerals Council South Africa (Minerals Council), in collaboration with Sibanye-Stillwater and Impala Platinum, set out to identify novel solutions in rock hazard identification and safe rock removal for further development, testing and piloting with the aforementioned partner mines.
A call for proposals in the Rock Hazard Identification category resulted in the submission of solutions featuring ground-penetrating radar technology, thermal and acoustic imaging, LiDAR-compatible drones and mmWave synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging for real-time rock mass quality inspection, among others.
In November 2022, a panel of judges representing the Mandela Mining Precinct, Minerals Council, Sibanye-Stillwater and Impala Platinum shortlisted the top seven submissions by contestants. In December 2022, the shortlisted submissions underwent a final round of judging at a virtual “pitching den” event.
This culminated in the announcement of South African engineering trailblazer Reutech Mining as the challenge winner, with the CSIR Advanced Internet of Things group, Technology Solutions, Rock Mass Technologies, Stratafy, Ramjack and Flyability being named runners up.
“In line with the South African Mining Extraction Research, Development and Innovation strategy’s aim to create the ultimate “glass rock” environment, we believe that our solution and the future plans thereof are a leap forward in truly making this possible,” says Reutech Underground Mining Specialist, Hein Greef.
Reutech mining will commercialise the solution so that the industry can benefit from the technology. The Rock Hazard Identification and Safe Removal Innovation Challenge was undertaken as part of the Mandela Mining Precinct’s Advanced Orebody Knowledge (AOK) programme, Fall of Ground Action Plan (FOGAP), a programme developed and approved by the Zero Harm Forum of the Minerals Council’s CEO. The FOGAP’s objective is to eliminate fall-of-ground fatalities, while the AOK programme seeks to improve geological confidence at and beyond the rockface.
“We are incredibly encouraged by the significant reduction in fall-of-ground fatalities this year, and hope this is a great step toward reaching zero fatalities – but the work is not done,” says Lerato Tsele, Senior Policy Analyst for Safety and Sustainability at the Minerals Council.
Mandela Mining Precinct Director, Johan le Roux, said innovation has been shown to directly enhance performance in the environmental, social and governance space – the clearest evidence of this being improvements in health and safety and the significant progress made to date towards “zero-harm” for the workforce.
Both Tsele and Le Roux expressed hope that the collective effort between the Mandela Mining Precinct and the Minerals Council will uncover a fit-for-purpose solution that will provide tangible results of lives saved and a more efficient and productive workflow.
In February 2022, the winners and finalists of the challenge were honoured at an event held in Johannesburg, where they had the opportunity to showcase their innovations to industry decision-makers and the media.
“The real-hazard identification challenge (RHID) is a response to the AOK research programme’s aim, which is to provide mine planners, rock engineers, geologists and other decision-makers with information and knowledge that will contribute to optimal extraction and zero harm objectives. We are excited that we have reached this stage in the challenge where we have identified a winner. We look forward to working with Reutech to perfect the solution and avail it to industry,” says AOK Programme Manager, Michelle Pienaar.
Expressing gratitude and appreciation to the sponsors and organisers of the challenge, Greef says, “Mining is a tech-hungry industry and initiatives such as the RHID challenge help to shape a better future for the South African mining industry. We are grateful for the opportunity to be part of the solution.”
The second phase of the challenge will include the winners receiving R1 million funding from the FOGAP Research and Development Fund to perfect their innovation and have the opportunity to test it at the Mandela Mining Precinct testing facility based at the Maseve Mine. They will also have access to the champion mines for initial testing and piloting.