Mine Management Nuggets

Mine Management Nuggets

By Motive Mungoni

Managing a mine is huge task whether one oversees an individual mine or a group of mines. In this era of information technology, it is not enough to maximise profits, minimise costs or even ensure a safe and healthy environment. Managing a mine entails vision, leadership and team work. A focus on leadership shows that it is an array of diverse qualities, qualifications, components, skills, capabilities and even unquantifiable elements. It is a natural path of progression from being merely a “manager” of a mine(s). In reality, there are different styles of management that mine managers adopt influenced by an array of factors, vis a vis, return on investment for the mine owners; compliance with government regulations; satisfying banks, accountants, politicians, environmentalist. Traditionally, mine management should focus on productivity and safety of its employees. On a contemporary basis, a mine manager must be abreast with technological advancement and the mental well-being of his employees whose importance has become apparent especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Emphasis shall be put on the traditional and contemporary approaches that can guarantee to a large extent a sustainable mining project. Under these two approaches, nuggets or basic principles on successful mine management will be shared.

Traditional approaches

  • Productivity

Productivity expresses a relationship between quantity of inputs—be it labour, materials, energy, capital, or some other aggregation—and the quantity of output. Output per man-hour, output per unit of capital, output per unit of energy, or output per unit of total input factors are all common measures; however, output per man-hour is the most frequently used or available measure under traditional approaches. One of production’s key components is a motivated, cohesive workforce that is dedicated to high standards of production and quality. In earlier generations, workers were ruled by security needs; a good job was one that paid the bills and kept the family together. But times have changed; the notion of a full employment economy, increased education and sophistication, and a rich menu of support programs calls for a manager to lead by example.

In order that these expectations and demands be met and still achieve the required productivity, managers must recognize the legitimacy of the workers’ search for self-esteem. Self-esteem has two interrelated aspects: self-confidence and self-respect. This is where good management becomes important. The modern manager must lead his workers into feelings of competence, involvement, and importance. A mine can address such needs through better supervisor training and more direct worker involvement in the problems and activities of the workplace.

  • Management by Objectives

Management by objectives focuses on getting supervisors to commit themselves to meeting objectives. The objectives must be reasonable and attainable, but not necessarily easy. The objectives must be specifically documented and must be reviewed and updated routinely. A good example is the development of an OHSE plan. The OHSE plan sets out the OHSE management system as well as the resources required to implement. It includes the minimum requirements for compliance with local OHSE laws and regulations in order to prevent injuries to workers, damage to property or the environment. The key word in this approach to better management planning is accountability. Employees will shirk responsibilities, but they will do what they are being held accountable for. In addition, employees need to know clearly their areas of accountability. This requires management to clearly communicate each employee’s accountability.

  • Production Incentives

Production incentives are generally goal-oriented rather than oriented toward problem-solving. However, production incentives have proven useful in improving worker productivity. Generally, incentives are attractive once a mine is pleased with its productivity and wants to push for a bit more. Incentives never should be used to attain an initial productivity goal. Incentives can be a two-edged sword. If the goals are set too high, workers will become frustrated and can be a tremendous source of resentment. The royalty on each tonne mined also cuts absenteeism, because workers do not get the bonus check when they miss work. However, management must be careful that the plan does not pay for what production should be achieving anyway.

Contemporary approaches

  • Quality of Performance

An approach used to help an employee’s personal efficacy and a sense of personal worth is that of quality circles. The quality circle techniques are familiar to approximately 1,800 American companies and more recently have been introduced to the mining industry. The general purpose of the quality circle is to improve performance but maintain the mental wellness of the employee.  Quality circles recognize that the people doing the work are most familiar with the problems that block their productivity on the job. The circles provide a mechanism for solving those problems that tend to demoralize and wear down employees. A quality circle is usually made up of employees, both supervisor and workers, who volunteer to be in the circle. A foreman normally serves as the leader, but like other members, he has one vote in conducting circle business and decisions. The members of the circle are trained in brainstorming, cause-and-effect analysis, data collection techniques, graphs, and basic group dynamics.

The circle group uses brainstorming to draw up a list of possible problems. Once a circle selects a problem, its first task is to gather data to discover the cost of the problem in terms of lost man-hours, wasted materials, downtime, or some other productivity measure. The circle group then uses its inherent knowledge to develop solutions and analyse the potential savings. The circle will usually make a presentation to mine management proposing a solution. Each circle member participates in the presentation; the circle process is dynamic. Problems are routinely added by members, non-members, or management to the list of possible projects. Problems are often solved without formal circle action. Companies with the circles commonly find that problems will fall off the list because people are talking about problems and find that they can easily solve them themselves. The solutions are not presented to management because no expenditures or management action are involved. Morale is a difficult attitude to measure. However, experience has shown that employees who are involved in solving workplace problems are more satisfied and generally more productive.

  • Technological advancement

 A mine manager has to be aware of innovations that are changing the mining industry. One such area is on virtual reality systems (VRS) which are now within budgetary reach of industrial mines due to the recent developments in both its hardware and software.

At the individual mine level, the mine manager is responsible for maintaining the desired standards of OHS

Assistant managers, welfare officers, safety officers, ventilation officers, overmen, sirdars, shot-firers, and surveyors assist the mine manager by ensuring proper supervision and control in all activities of mining

The mine management or mine manager will determine the quality, number of days, and types of training to be provided.


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