At the end of December 2023, De Beers’ Venetia Mine near Musina, in South Africa, celebrated reaching 10.2 million fatality-free shifts, a significant achievement as it transitions from open pit to underground operations, it said.
The challenging journey to date has included reskilling the company’s open pit employees for underground operations, while coordinating the many contractors working to implement the ambitious Venetia Underground Project (VUP). Gavin Anderson, Senior Manager for Safety and Sustainable Development at Venetia, says the vision of ‘Pioneering a Brilliant Future for Venetia Mine’ needed a bold and innovative approach to safety.
This challenging task was underpinned by a very comprehensive risk management program – but there was a difference: instead of focusing on safety risk, the decision was made to take everyone on a personal journey towards safely creating one Venetia Mine.
“We developed our own holistic approach to operational risk management,” Anderson says. “Rather than focusing purely on safety or on occupational health and hygiene, we have worked on giving employees a psychologically safe workplace in which to operate.”
He explains that ‘psychological safety’ is a concept that moves away from a focus on management, and towards a new appreciation of leadership. Where leaders demonstrate care for their employees, he argues, then companies can drive safe production.
“Traditionally, a manager would pursue safety compliance through checking that certain standards and procedures were in place,” Anderson says. “A psychologically safe workplace, however, is where employees feel free to speak up when they believe a procedure or risk assessment is not adding the necessary value to their safety efforts.”
From this foundation, employees can engage directly with leadership and there can be collaborative efforts to design and apply safety improvements. Anderson notes that, once the right environment is created, more effective safety interventions and tools can be applied. One such initiative at Venetia is the Safety Sentry, in which each team elects a sentry to capture and communicate the safety observations of his colleagues during that shift.
Using a tablet to record images, conversations or videos underground, the Safety Sentry is able to highlight areas where improvements can be made at the workface. Leveraging digital communication technology, this data is uploaded to a manager who can view, assess and take forward the observations or suggestions – both with the team and senior management.
Another important avenue for Venetia’s safety approach is to remind employees of their families’ love for and reliance on them. A recent campaign asked employees’ family members to send video clips urging them to come home safely from work to enjoy the Christmas season – with these personal messages being played on screens in the workplace.
“Focusing on the human component has given Venetia Mine the edge in terms of shifting safety practices,” Anderson concluded.