The first building which catches your eyes on when reaching the headworks of one of the deepest gold mines in the world is the Safety Workshop. Besides the classrooms where all the safety regimes are listed and taught, where all the safety films and videos are shown, there is also a complete mock-up of an underground haulage, where many dangers are discussed, accidents and examples are shown and also the means to avoid such accidents happening. No-one can demonstrate how to escape the effects of an underground ‘bump’ or mini-earthquake, caused by the removal of a thin slice of rock stretching many, many hundreds of yards at a depth of maybe twenty thousand feet underground; but most other dangers are well-known and catalogued. These include the falls, the heat-exhaustion, the falling of random rocks weighing in at half-tonne each, the rapid transit from life to death if you place one foot in the wrong place, and so on, and so forth. The ‘Safety’ mantras are preached, and repeated, and reminded so often within the Workshop that one would actually believe that ‘safety rules’ underground as well.
Unfortunately, the one ‘mantra’ which was preached once the cages dropped below the surface of that particular mine was ‘Production, Ore production, Production’, and ‘Safety’ took the last seat on the tram. As a contractor, I ran an installation project underground, but also supervised a team of contract maintenance workers within the gold-ore operation. I have witnessed the ‘losing’ of un-expended sticks of ‘dynagel’ explosive by casually throwing them into the ore passes, I saw a passage where dozens of men were supposed to walk with one side next to an thirty-foot drop with absolutely no protection against accidental falls; I saw many other items which would drive the average H&S inspector up the wall. But was ever anything done? Nope, it was always ‘dig more ore’, get more gold, don’t hold up production!
The only time that ‘Safety’ took priority was when I signed my name to state that a haulage staircase, a wooden stairway which stretched upwards for literally hundreds of yards from one level to another, was dangerous and to be condemned. Once the Mine Manager saw the same conditions as one of my electricians had been complaining about for literally weeks, the entire walkway was replaced over a weekend!
My point is simple, when you read this, you can believe it, because if the great god ‘progress’ or the other idol named‘production’ is thought to be in peril, safety gets pushed out of the queue, and lands up in the back seat as usual!