SAFE OPERATIONS

Rössing strongly believes that all incidents, injuries, and occupational accidents are preventable, and is striving towards the goal of zero harm.

Martin Amukwaya (Radiation Advisor) at one of the notice boards on site.

 

During 2020, our operations made significant improvements across all key safety metrics. Rössing Uranium achieved a significant milestone with its All Injury Frequency Rate which has reduced to 0.34 against a target of 0.61, the best performance the mine has recorded since inception.

This was the result of increased rigour and focused implementation of our safety programmes across our operation, made possible by the leadership and engagement of our employees. 2020 was also a year free of fatalities, permanent disability injuries and significant process safety incidents.

For the second consecutive year, Rössing won the Chamber of Mines’ Best Safety Award in the Operating Mines Category. Jacklyn Mwenze, Rössing Uranium’s Manager HSE and Protection Services, received the prize from the Minister of Mines and Energy.

Safety initiatives

Excellence in health, safety, security, environment, and communities’ management is one of the foundations of Rössing Uranium’s vision to be the safest and most-efficient, long-life uranium producer in the world. The mine’s Protection Services team plays an active role in the protection of the health and safety of our employees, contractors, stakeholders, and neighbouring communities.

During 2020, the following ongoing initiatives took place to further our goal of zero harm:

  • Focus was put on vehicles and a drive to streamline the mine site licences to have the same validity period as the Roads Authority and national licences.
  • The Critical Risk Management (CRM) fatality prevention tool was sustained with focus on leaders verifying that critical controls are in place in the field, coaching teams and planning verifications for safety critical jobs.
  • The HSE Refresher induction was made web-based, to enable those with access to computers to complete their induction online rather than classroom-based, reducing gatherings as a control in the fight against COVID-19.
  • The different types of permits used onsite were integrated into one system. This includes the permit-to-work, confined space and working-at-heights permits. This system will be trialled in early 2021.
  • A ‘deep-dive’ (an in-depth examination or analysis of a topic) was done on process safety management since April 2020, and improvements identified were implemented during 2020 as part of a preventative management initiative.
  • HSE training was provided to employees, which focused on developing and enhancing their HSE knowledge and skills.

Highlights in safety management

Highlights of our safety management initiative in 2020 include the following:

  • The housekeeping competition audits continued. The purpose of the housekeeping competition is to improve general housekeeping at the mine, as well as to instil a sense of pride in individual workshops. This competition is driven by the occupational health, safety, and environment (OHSE) representative, and will continue in 2021.
  • The housekeeping competition audits continued. The purpose of the housekeeping competition is to improve general housekeeping at the mine, as well as to instil a sense of pride in individual workshops. This competition is driven by the occupational health, safety, and environment (OHSE) representative, and will continue in 2021.
  • The mine had successfully completed its first surveillance ISO 14001:2018 audit in April 2020 after it was recertified in 2019.
  • Recognising Rössing’s safety efforts and achievement, we won the Chamber of Mines’ 2020 Best Safety Award in the Operating Mine category for the second consecutive year.

 

PROTECTION SERVICES

The Protection Services unit is key to safe and secure operations at Rössing. Its functions are embedded in the national fire safety requirements, the National Fire Protection Association guidelines, clear sets of corporate security standards, and the security protocols governing the uranium industry.

The function consists of Security (asset and employee) and Emergency Responses (medical, fire emergencies), whilst partnering with key stakeholders such as the police, other uranium mines and the local municipalities.

The unit has continued to cement its position by providing essential security and emergencies services, thereby boosting investor confidence. In line with the International Atomic Energy Agency, we are proud producers and exporters of uranium and can confirm that all Rössing exports met the set security standards for the year under review, while our employees safely return home after work.

Medical service

The biggest medical challenge for 2020 was and remains COVID-19. The Section adjusted timeously to the changing needs brought about by the pandemic. Our strategic, decisive, and timeous intervention in the face of the COVID-19 threat ensured that many of our employees and contractor workforce were spared the impacts associated with the pandemic.

Extensive education, site evacuations and emergency drills, which included the medical fraternity, ensured that Rössing was able to respond effectively to the threats posed by the virus. Our contact-tracing programme yielded the required results, and stakeholders expressed confidence in the way we are handling our pandemic mitigation measures.

 

Fire and emergency responses

Fire safety is key to Rössing’s survival. The Section demonstrated maturity by continuing to identify shortcomings and implementing corrective measures, whilst deploying modern fire detection and suppression systems. Our relations extend beyond the mine’s boundaries and we have responded timeously and efficiently to fire incidents and two motor vehicle accidents in Arandis and on the B2 national road towards Swakopmund, respectively.

Technology infusion

In line with its mandate to provide safe and secure operations, the Section has invested in new CCTV, access control and thermal body temperature cameras. Alcohol testing is now automated and has proven to be much more effective in reducing and removing the human error factor.

 

Martin Amukwaya (Radiation Advisor) placing on a dosimeter on Thomas Jonas (Drum filling operator).

RADIATION SAFETY

It is a well-known fact that uranium is weakly radioactive because all isotopes of uranium are unstable. However, the uranium ore mined and processed at Rössing has a low uranium content of around 0.03 per cent. Most areas of the mine have a radiation level between 0.0002 to 0.0004 millisieverts (mSv) per hour, which is slightly above the background level measured in the nearby town of Arandis. Higher radiation levels are present in areas of the Processing Plant, where the uranium product is concentrated. These areas are controlled such that access to such areas is restricted.

Radiation exposure control is one of the key aspects of occupational hygiene monitoring at the mine.

The programme includes the monitoring of similar exposure groups (SEGs) in which employees are categorised according to the areas they work in and on similar tasks they are occupied with. Other monitoring activities include final product recovery surface contamination and airborne long-lived radioactive dust, thermoluminescent dosimetry (TLD) for radiation workers, and urine sampling. Public monitoring and the monitoring of shipments form part of radiation safety exposure control.

Monitoring

We continued to apply the risk-based monitoring approach for SEG monitoring, which was initiated in 2019. Personal and area monitoring for SEGs measure the three exposure pathways, namely internal exposures to long-lived radioactive dust (LLRD) and radon decay products, as well as external (gamma) radiation exposure. Personal monitoring requires interactions between people, which was limited due to the pandemic, therefore our monitoring programme had to be adjusted to do more area sampling.

In 2020, the average dose ranged between 0.93 and 3.98 mSv/a against the occupational legal limit of 20 mSv/a. The overall average radiation dose was 1.36 mSv/a. Figure 8 shows a summary of all SEGs monitored.

n addition to our regular public monitoring with the PM10 and water sampling, monitoring was performed at the Arandis airport, Arandis town and near the TSF. The two exposure pathways under consideration were airborne LLRD and radon progeny, with the background levels included in the final dose. The public exposure legal limit is 1 mSv/a above background. The results are shown in Figure 9.

Radiation safety awareness and capacity building

Radiation safety induction refresher courses and area-specific inductions for Final Product Recovery and the Recovery areas continued in 2020.

A total of 290 employees and contractors were trained in various courses during the year. In addition, we embarked on a quest to re-introduce online radiation refresher training, which is currently in its infancy and will be an ongoing project for 2021.

Rössing continued to support the Namibian Uranium Institute (NUI) and its Radiation Safety Working Group (RSWG), where current topics related to radiation safety are regularly discussed.

We are also pleased to share that in 2020 one of Rössing’s employees, Nelao Endjala, was nominated as Chairperson of the NUI RSWG.

Sadly, one of our staff members — who was also the legally-appointed Radiation Safety Officer for Rössing — Dr Bertram Schleicher, passed away in October 2020.

All Radiation Safety team members participated in a two-week online IAEA International Conference on radiation safety, titled “Improving Radiation Protection in Practice”, held in November 2020.

 

Martin Amukwaya (Radiation Advisor) and Abigail Shidute (Radiation Advisor) at the rod mill tunnel.

Radon in rod mill tunnels

Radon (radon-222) is part of the uranium decay chain and, being a noble gas, can escape the matrix of the rock and soil in which it is formed. When radon reaches open air, it disperses quickly. However, when radon enters an enclosed space or confined atmosphere, such as a tunnel, cave or building, it cannot disperse as easily. Therefore, it is usually found at higher levels than outdoors, resulting in exposure to workers working in those areas. The reference level or limit for radon concentrations for workers is 1000 Bq/m3.

In 2020, an average of above 1,000 Bq/m3 was measured between the four rod mill tunnels. This was caused by poor ventilation in the tunnels, resulting from ore build-up that has blocked the openings at the end of the tunnels.

A project was initiated to open all the ends of the rod mill tunnels to increase the ventilation of the indoor spaces with outdoor air to reduce radon levels, thereby drastically reducing the radon exposure to personnel doing work in the tunnels.

 

The level of radon concentration dropped to below 1,000 Bq/m3 after the cleaning exercise.

To optimise worker protection for employees intending to carry out work in the tunnels and to keep exposure as low as reasonably achievable, work in the tunnels has been restricted to six hours per day. The tunnels are signposted to provide awareness to those entering the area.