During emergency situations at South Africa’s mines, instant retrieval of records of miners on shift and evidence of regular safety checks could mean the difference between life and death, as well as the avoidance of potential mine closures. This is against the background of provisional data from the Department of Mining, which shows that in the first four months of 2011 a total of 47 miners have died and 711 miners have been injured in mining-related accidents.

This is according to Guy Kimble, MD of Metrofile, who says that the high accident rates at local mines coupled with the vast employee complement increases the necessity of effective records management.

“Should an accident occur, mining companies will need to prove that proper safety measures were in place and provide critical information, such as which employees were involved, in order to mitigate legal and financial ramifications.”

Kimble says that mines who do not implement effective records management and are non-compliant with governing legislation can potentially suffer a huge loss of productivity as a result of closure. “Loss of productivity can result in active mines potentially losing as much as R25-million per day of closure.”

He explains that mining companies are required by law to retain records relating to safety, security, employee information, training, qualifications and mining grounds information, all of which can be called upon by an inspector at any given time or event.

“The Occupational Health and Safety Act No. 85 of 1993 stipulates that in some instances human resource records are to be retained for a minimum of 45 years. The consequences of non-compliance can result in the mine being closed down until the issue at hand is resolved.

“The massive volumes of records required to be stored by local mining houses presents a number of challenges for mining houses regarding the management, retention and storage of the required documents. For example, some mines may be located in areas that pose a risk to records storage with threats such as fire, flooding, sink holes, earth tremors, and unruly industrial action.”

Kimble says local mining houses have various options for effective records management and storage including the management of the original documents which are indexed at file level and stored in archive boxes in purpose-built storage facilities. “The advantage of storing the original documents is that the intrinsic value of the original is retained and legally it will always be accepted as the best evidence available.

“Alternatively, mines can implement an Electronic Records Management (ERM) system where paper documents are converted to electronic format through a scanning process. ERM is becoming increasingly popular globally due to benefits such as ease of filing, access, sharing, instant retrieval and options of digital backups.”

Kimble says mining companies need to realise that the consequences of an inadequate records management system outweighs the costs of implementing an effective records management system. “Mines should appoint a qualified records manager and speak to a reputable records managements business to find out which option best suits their business model.”