‘Good prose is the selection of the best words……’ Poetry is the best words in the best order; And journalese (legalese) is any old words in any old order’ In a letter (1987) to the Times of London.

There is much food for thought in the papers in this issue, which were selected from a workshop that was held last year on the Health and Safety Acts in South Africa. Three of the papers by W. Le Roux are in the form of a digest and commentary, specifically as valuable guidelines for those in the industry.

These are heavy reading, but inevitably so, because in the absence of any precise specifications of risk factors or definitive responsibilities and actions, these concepts are cloaked in the vagueness of the one word ’reasonable’.

Two examples from those that abound are:
‘There can only be reasonable cause to believe … where, considered objectively, there are reasonable grounds for the belief’ and,
‘It cannot be said that an officer has reasonable cause to believe merely because he believes he has reasonable cause to believe.’

Accidents and risk factors are almost invariably assessed by computerized statistics, not semantics. As food for thought, Le Roux and his associates might attempt to persuade our legislative drafting experts that decisions on mine safety such as closure have profound implications. They cannot depend on unilateral semantic interpretations by inspectors and others operating in terms of the Act.

Accidents are a matter of quantitative risk assessment, and those making decisions should have the benefit of a proper statistical appreciation of such factors, as is demanded in all other professional personnel—in the medical, engineering, or economic disciplines.

An excellent example of the complexity of the operation of a mine, and the decision methodology that is emerging, is given in the paper by Phillis and Gumede on Annual Mine Planning.

This makes use of some sophisticated computer programs for task definition, allocation, and reporting to all levels of management. Let us speculate on the psychological benefits to the mineworkers in generating a safe and productive work ethic if some of the large TV screens were to be installed next to the entrance skips, displaying the colourful computer diagrams designed to show the weekly bonus progression as affected by absenteeism or accident hold-ups. This could boost team spirit among the underground workers.

The paper that I consider as compulsory reading for those involved in the drafting of health and safety legislation is that by Noel Joughin on ‘Engineering considerations in the tolerability of risk’.

This deals with the history, problems, and present and future plans for handling the safety and health factors in the South African mining industry. If read in conjunction with the inaugural address by the incoming President of the SAIMM, Professor Nielen van der Merwe, which will be published in the September Journal, one will obtain a top level and comprehensive report on the status of the mining industry in South Africa.

These two presentations would provide interesting reading to politicians, trade unionists, and overseas investors to influence future decision making.

The technical research paper in this issue deals with roof bolts sometimes referred to as rock anchors. They are like lifeboats to the mining industry. They are used by the million, and there is always scope for improvement in efficiency and cost of production.

The paper by Sam Spearing et al., from Illinois, is a classic example of improvement by experimentation and interpretation, and provides inspiration for the next step forward. I foresee much greater use in much of our underground mining in South Africa, quite apart from the likelihood that we have not seen the last of deep level coal mining.

By far the most intriguing contribution comes from the maverick Dr Phillip Lloyd, who is among the most experienced and competent chemical engineers in the investigative fraternity in the Cape.

He debunks the common fallacy that combustion of coal demands the installation of scrubbers to remove sulphur dioxide, widely regarded as the main contributor to the acid rain scourge in the world and particularly in South Africa.

His case is very convincingly argued, with some sound logic and scientific analysis based on well referenced data.

He indicates that there is no proven disaster scenario arising from acid rain, and there might be some benefits. Certainly a great deal of unnecessary expense can be avoided if the insistence on desulphurization of power station effluent gas could be abandoned.

In the context of this issue, with its emphasis on legal aspects, I concur that his forensic evidence would be accepted as proven beyond ‘reasonable’ doubt in any court of environmental adjudication.

Indeed, my menu on the food for thought theme includes adding even more ammunition to his, hopefully, successful crusade.

One of the most important advantages is that in a power station of 4 500 MW, without sulphurous gas scrubbing, an amount of 20 megalitres of water per day could be utilized for other purposes. Being adjacent to an open pit mine where reclamation overburden is available, and on my zero waste doctrine, this is roughly equivalent to the requirements of between 1 000 and 2 000 cluster farming families with good sustainable jobs. To add some cherries to the cake, the possibility of producing ammonium sulphate and slow release phosphate fertilizers is well within the probability ball-park. If we could convince the world of the Lloyd thesis, further savings and advantages in reducing the amount of dressing of coal to remove sulphur could be realized, with the obvious benefits to our most valuable mining activity.

I am sure this paper will attract much international attention, particularly from the coal producing continents.