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DrillSafe Articles

Safety information and collaboration forum for the exploration drilling industry in Southern Africa.

Workplace safety: The good, the bad, the annoying?

Drill Safe


Author: Jacob de Coning, Client Solutions Manager at JvR Safety

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of safety in the workplace? If you work in an industrial environment you probably thought of signs, rules and paperwork…lots of paperwork.

In the service sector, you may have thought of the dangers of incorrect posture, staring at a screen for too many hours or sitting at your desk. Sitting is the new smoking you know. Regardless of the industry, this is not a topic that typically gets people excited.

Considering the recent listeriosis outbreak in South Africa, workplace safety is a topic that can become very important, very quickly. Admittedly, many companies do take safety seriously and this focus has indeed paid off. From mining to manufacturing, fatalities have mostly been dropping since 1994(1). However, many companies lament the fact that they are seeing a diminishing return from their safety efforts.

This leaves us with a fundamental question. If companies are investing so heavily in this area, why are incidents still happening? This is surely a question worth answering and most of us can agree that companies should be able to pursue their goal without harming people. Yet, the curious case remains that people are often disengaged and, quite frankly, annoyed with the topic…

Somewhere, through all the efforts to improve safety, we have forgotten about the very thing we are trying to protect…the person.

We attempt to engineer and regulate every possible interaction a person may have with risks in their environment. While important, this approach has had an unintended consequence in that people have become so used to risks they are lulled into a false sense of security.

Reducing the need to think

Through our over-emphasis on engineering and regulatory approaches to safety, we have reduced the need for a person to think about what they are doing. More frightening still, some companies seem to prefer it this way.

We have heard from employees across different industries, that they are not involved in planning their work or making work-related decisions. As some employees may put it, “We get paid to work, not to think”. However, once an incident happens you are almost guaranteed to hear the ubiquitous “Why didn’t you think?!!” response. Possibly… because that is exactly what we are training people to do.

It makes sense to control and remove risks where possible – hence the critical role of safety engineering. It also makes sense to learn from best practice and entrench these as guidelines that different companies can follow. On top of this, it REALLY makes sense not to disregard a tool, that has been refined over several million years to efficiently handle input, adjust to its surroundings and which conveniently has a self-preservation drive built right in.

Hint: It’s the brain…

It is quite ironic that at the time when we are placing ever more sensors and learning algorithms into machines to better enable them to deal with their environments, we are suppressing those same qualities in human beings. Granted, humans are not always the easiest things to work with, but the same goes for microwaves and we have learnt to work effectively with them.

Here are a few simple ways to promote safe behaviour among your team:

  1. Allow people to think and make decisions. We have found that employees understand that they cannot be involved in every minute part of the business, however, they do want to have an input into the work they are doing. This notion is backed up by research supporting the idea that employees are more engaged when they have a sense of autonomy and agency, which contributes to a sense of ownership(2)(3).
  2. Involve individuals in planning their tasks. Individuals like to know that what they are doing contributes to a larger whole. Involving a team in planning their work greatly improves the odds of them being committed to the goal(4). On a practical note, proper planning can assist workers to complete their tasks in a more efficient manner
  3. Use questions more than “telling”. Most safety conversations involve telling adults how to do their work, or what not to do. Moving from a “telling” mindset to using questions not only involves the person more, but ties into the structure of their brain to keep their attention. Through using questions employees are immediately more engaged and it improves the chances of them thinking through their tasks, rather than just listening passively.

People want to do great work, to perform well on difficult challenges(5). Perhaps it is time to involve them in one of the most difficult challenges faced by the industrial world. Reaching our goals, continuing the march of progress. Without losing people along the way.


  1. Mckay, D. SA mining laments rise in number of employee fatalities in 2017. [Online] 2017.
  2. Freaks, D. Motivating Employees Has Everything To Do With Giving Them Feelings Of Ownership. [Online] 2014.
  3. Schawbel, D. How Companies Can Benefit From Inclusion. [Online] 2012.
  4. Newport, C. Professor. How to love your Job. s.l. : Tiny Leaps, 1 March 2018.
  5. Whitehurst, J. Decisions Are More Effective when More People Are Involved from the Start. Harvard Business Review. [Online] 2016.

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About the author

Jacob is the Client Solutions Manager at JvR Safety - a niche behavioral consulting, training and research firm based in Johannesburg. As an Industrial Psychologist, Jacob has utilised his knowledge of behavioural science to a variety of projects in environments where safety is business critical. In the mining industry specifically, Jacob has consulted with gold and platinum mines in South Africa and North West Africa to influence, shape and change the prevailing mindset people have towards safety.

Why hands free rod handling?

Erin Rice

Probably due to a large number of hand injuries whilst tripping drill rods, mining companies are increasingly requesting hands free rod handling systems. In the case of rotary percussion or reverse circulation drill pipe this makes great sense and we have seen many different designs of hands free systems. 

In the case of diamond drill rod, this is not so easy because of the relative frailty of wireline drill rod thread compared to API or modified API threads. As a consequence many systems accelerate thread wear and so possibly introduce more risk than is perceived.

These are some of the critical issues that will be discussed at the Drill Rig and Safety Innovation Forum on 20 July 2018 in Johannesburg. Don't miss out on this opportunity to listen to a wide range of industry experts. Register now at


Responsibilities of suppliers and manufacturers

Drill Safe

By Colin Rice

Colin Rice Exploration and Training (Pty) Ltd. -


In this article we discuss the responsibilities of people and companies that supply equipment to an exploration drilling operation. 


In previous legal articles I have explored a number of the provisions of the Mine Health and Safety Act that impact exploration drilling operations and in a recent article, I began to discuss Section 21 - the section that addresses the responsibilities of manufacturers and suppliers.  The article specifically examined the responsibilities of chemical manufacturers and suppliers but in this article I would like to discuss what Section 21 says about equipment manufactures and suppliers. 

Section 21 of the Mine Health and Safety Act very clearly outlines the responsibilities of manufacturers and suppliers and for ease of reference, I include the relevant sub-sections below.

Section 21 Manufacturer’s and supplier’s duty for health and safety

(1)  Any person who -
      (a)  designs, manufactures, repairs, imports or supplies any article for use at a mine must ensure, as far as reasonably practicable-
           (i)  that the article is safe and without risk to health and safety when used properly; and
           (ii)  that it complies with all the requirements in terms of this Act;
     (b)  erects or installs any article for use at a mine must ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that nothing about the manner in  
           which it is erected or installed makes it unsafe or creates a risk to health and safety when used properly; or
     (c)  designs, manufactures, erects or installs any article for use at a mine must ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that
           ergonomic principles are considered and implemented during design, manufacture, erection or installation.
(2)  Any person who bears a duty in terms of subsection (1) is relieved of that duty to the extent that is reasonable in the circumstances, if -
      (a)  that person designs, manufactures, repairs, imports or supplies an article for or to another person; and
      (b)  that other person provides a written undertaking to take specific steps sufficient to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable,
            that the article will be safe and without risk to health and safety when used properly and that it complies with all prescribed

First of all, we must remember that, in South  Africa, an exploration borehole is deemed a "mine" and so wherever you see the word "mine" in Section 21, you can substitute the words "drill site".

The wording of sub-section 1 is pretty broad and places some very significant responsibilities on the manufacturer or supplier. Sub-section 1 (a) (i) requires that the equipment is safe "when used properly". I interpret this to mean that the manufacturer must ensure that the user of the equipment knows the capabilities and limitations of the equipment, that he knows all of the safety devices fitted to the drill and that he knows how to use the equipment "properly" i.e. that the has been trained and assessed and declared competent to use the drill for its designed purpose and within its limits.

This is a significant requirement and, as explained in the drill rig capacity articles in this edition, I do not believe that any manufacturer of exploration drill rigs complies with the requirements of this sub-section. Frequently, I come across drill rigs where, if there is an Operation and Safety Manual, the quality of the documentation is very poor. More importantly, we often see that the quality of the risk assessment that is provided by the manufacturers is of very poor quality.

Sub-section 1 (a) (ii) is even more of a problem because it requires that suppliers and manufacturers ensure that their equipment complies with all requirements of the MHSA. I can assure you that there is not a single exploration drill rig supplier or manufacturer that supplies equipment that fully complies with the Act.

If we delve into and interpret the requirements of the Act we will see that drills must be fitted with guards to all rotating, moving or hot components, hoists must be speed, load and travel limited, drills must be fitted with isolation switches (lock-outs), hoists must be clearly and conspicuously labelled with their Safe Working Load, and so on. There are many more requirements that manufacturers are required to meet but manufacturers continue to supply equipment that is deficient in terms of the Act. 

 Why is this the case? The answer is very simple, the regulations of the MHSA are written to regulate mining operations and not exploration drilling operations. As a consequence, we have to extract from the Act the provisions that apply to exploration operations and then we have to interpret what they mean.

The problem is that three different people will arrive at three different interpretations and so no one is exactly sure of what the Act requires. Suppliers therefore supply "bear" drills and leave it up to the contractor to fit what additional safety devices he thinks the mine wants. Unfortunately, the mine often does not understand the operation of an exploration drill and so demands modifications that are unnecessary and sometimes compromise safety rather than improve safety.

Given this situation, the attitude of manufacturers is understandable but it places contractors in a weak position - as soon as the contractor modifies a drill to suit mine requirements he risks voiding the manufacturers warranty. I came across a case recently where the responsible engineer on a mine required that the contractor weld two struts to the mast of a brand new drill rig so that a safety chain could be fitted! This is crazy, unreasonable and in the particular case it was also unnecessary.

So where does this leave the manufacturer and the contractor? Unfortunately, confusion reigns and will continue to reign until everyone agrees on what a "safe" drill rig should look like.

This requires that all applicable legislation is interrogated and that the relevant regulations are correctly interpreted and collated into a simple to understand document. I have done this exercise for several major mining companies in South Africa and created what we have called a "drill site safety standard". The standard is complete and addresses every legal requirement plus a good deal of common sense. I strongly believe that the standard should be adopted by all mining and exploration companies so that we can build a level of consistency and compliance in our industry.

For more information on the drill site safety standard I have developed, please visit our website or contact Colin Rice directly on

In future articles in the Legal Section, I will discuss further requirements in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act.

Welding fumes re-classified as carcinogens

Drill Safe

 As you may already be aware, in March 2017, scientists from around the world met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC; Lyon, France) to evaluate the carcinogenicity of welding fume. Based on substantial new evidence through observational and experimental studies, welding fume has now been reclassified from  “possibly carcinogenic to humans” as it was originally classified in 1989 to its new Group 1 classification as “Carcinogenic to Humans”. The working group concluded that there is “sufficient  evidence in humans” that welding fumes cause lung cancer and limited evidence for kidney cancer.

This article was sourced from the AWS. Please click on the button below to download the full article from AWS' website.