From a relatively rag-tag bunch of operators in years gone by, the South African quarrying industry has transformed itself into a well-managed and responsible industry that is recognised globally for its standards. In many ways, this has been the result of the efforts of the Aggregate and Sand Producers Association of Southern Africa (Aspasa), which was formed from within the industry to self-regulate and guide individual operators to become a professional and sustainable industry.
For the most part this has already been achieved, and throughout evolving legal and social requirements in the mining sector, Aspasa plays an important role for the entire mining sector. Simultaneously, the quarrying industry has remained buoyant throughout the recent commodity price-induced downturn and continues to provide investors with above-average earning opportunities. When one considers it, aggregate and sand is the mineral most mined throughout the world.
Aspasa director Nico Pienaar.
Since the turn of the century, the man behind Aspasa – Nico Pienaar – has given direction and played a significant role in the success of the Association. As director, his keen administrative ability combined with unique relationship-building skills and astute legal mind, has made Aspasa a force to be reckoned with in the mining industry.
Pienaar has become a well-known personality within the mining and construction industries. He grew up in small towns in and around Swaziland where the many different social classes and people taught him to become an astute listener and an above-average communicator. As the son of a butcher, this was a requirement as he often found himself dealing with a diverse array of people.
His easy-going personality has been a feature of his career but he is no push-over. His broad knowledge of business, combined with legal training, makes him a tough negotiator as well as being highly capable of pushing his organisation’s agenda. Having spent a period as a trade unionist in South Africa has also assisted him in seeing both sides of the story.
This stems from Pienaar’s early days studying law at RAU and later studying industry relations, human resources and labour law at Unisa; all of which were done on a part-time basis and paid from out of his own pocket, spurring him on to make the best possible use of his qualifications. During this time, he held many positions starting with his first job as a legal clerk, banking, industry and human relations practitioner, as well as a trade unionist, before finally finding his passion as the head of Aspasa, and later also Sarma.
The quarrying industry has remained buoyant throughout the recent commodity-price induced downturn and continues to provide investors with above-average earning opportunities. When one considers it, aggregate and sand is the mineral most mined throughout the world.
“When I took up the reins at Aspasa, I had no experience in the quarrying industry and very few, if any, contacts in the industry. But I was undeterred and with the help of a number of industry stalwarts, I learned the ropes and realised the path we needed to take to achieve the goals set down by our industry roleplayers,” he says.
“We needed to unite the industry and form an association that would fight for the common good of our industry and our members. Next, we set about formalising the industry through the establishment of strict health, safety and environmental ground rules that would need to be followed for companies to become members of our Association. This had the effect of dramatically raising the overall standards of our industry and has made it far easier to customers to do business with us.”
He says it is a team effort. “I have been supported by the Aspasa board, as well as by my right-hand-woman and long-serving member of Aspasa’s administrative team Mary-Ann Sutton, with whom we have engaged roleplayers in the industry to establish workable boundaries that ensure sustainability and the wellbeing of all within the industry. At the top of our agenda, we have sought fair trade and profitability for all our members with the Association; and levelling the playing field.
“After 17 years at the helm of Aspasa, I believe the Association has made great progress and we will continue fighting for our industry, until such time as we are free of challenges,” Pienaar says.
His lead-from-the-front approach to driving Aspasa, supported by his passion for fairness, sound administrative and planning abilities, has led the organisation into becoming one of the most highly-regarded associations in the country and a recognised leader globally. His efforts have also seen him occupy one of the longest-standing executive seats on the Chamber of Mines.
Tougher environmental audits
Aspasa has amended its environmental compliance audits to keep track with changes in the environmental law, as well as new ISO standards.
The Association has been largely responsible for the professionalism of the quarrying industry in recent years, with the result that quarrying practices have become dramatically safer and kinder to the environment. Since 1994, the Aspasa’s About Face Management Programme has led the formal quarrying industry into becoming one of the safest and most sustainable in the world.
Pienaar explains that the About Face Programme was originally implemented to stop the damage that was being caused by quarrying practices and to work with members to implement and optimise environmental and management plans on the quarries. An annual audit programme was also devised to ensure member quarries adhered to the strict requirements, which has moved environmental compliance to a very high standard. With the Mining Charter demanding environmental compliance, Aspasa members have been in the forefront.
“Since then, the audit requirements are regularly updated to measure changing requirements of the programme. This time, it not only conforms fully to ISO 14001:2015 but goes further in including features particular to the aggregate and sand producing industry in Southern Africa. These include the requirements of South African environmental law most pertinent to the industry and international best practice,” he says.
Through the participation of members in the programme, the Association can provide assurance to stakeholders that its members are practicing environment stewardship at each operation and implementing world-leading management systems.
In its ongoing effort to mitigate risks on quarries, Aspasa has just released a comprehensive Best Practice Guideline on dealing with vehicle management in quarries. Historically, these are among the leading causes of deaths and injuries on our quarries and the practice guideline is aimed at identifying, managing and mitigating these risks.
Pienaar says the primary focus must always be on ensuring effective, proactive controls are in place to prevent accidents occurring. “While every quarry is different in respect of size and nature, a number of common controls have been identified by the industry, which should be considered as part of the risk management process when developing a site’s vehicle management strategy.
The document provides comprehensive guidelines on requirements and vehicles on site. It includes information relating to effective quarry design and layout, site geology, property boundaries, access, as well as production rates/constraints, quarrying development, size and type of mobile equipment (haul road gradient/width). This needs to be taken in context with the location of plant, infrastructure, stockpiles, weather, etc.
The guideline also deals with the selection of equipment including contractors and hired equipment, as well as inspection and testing, OEM specifications and minimum site requirements.
“The idea of the guideline is to give our members as comprehensive a tool as possible to manage vehicles on site and to eliminate the risk of these machines injuring people on or off site,” Pienaar says.
The guideline is available from the Aspasa office.
Recruiting new blood
The excavation, crushing and screening of aggregates can hardly be regarded as a sexy job and as such, doesn’t receive much attention from scholars and graduates who rather look towards more ‘glamorous’ roles in other industries. Yet the industry needs new blood and new thinking to take it to the next level.
“For this reason, every effort should be made to attract newcomers,” Pienaar asserts. “With a little branding and explanation, the ‘shiny side’ of aggregates can be exposed and younger generations can be shown the valuable role it plays in our daily lives.
He says the industry, as well as individual companies, needs to effectively communicate the benefit of employment within the industry if it wants to attract potential employees in the future. “The process of branding therefore needs to be taken to a recruitment level if the industry is to thrive in future. The value of our industry’s brand should therefore reflect the needs of potential employees.
“Employers and industries that have ‘high employer brand value’ are perceived by potential employees as more attractive than those with lower brand values. A potential employee’s appraisal of an employer brand is therefore prompted by factors including their awareness and perceptions of the employer brand, which may be developed by word of mouth, personal experience and marketing strategies.”
He says branding theory and practices should therefore be expanded to differentiate firms and the industry to make them desirable from an employee perspective. Just as traditional advertising communicates characteristics of a product to consumers, so too should employer branding be applied to recruitment, and jobs should be regarded as products to attract current or potential employees.”
Pienaar suggests that the aggregate industry apply the following methodology to attract new blood:
P Provide a positive work environment
R Recognise, reward and reinforce the right behaviour
I Involve and engage
D Develop skills and potential
E Evaluate and measure
“Under the final E, we need to conduct employee satisfaction surveys at least once a year; initiate interviews and surveyor concerning the real reasons people come to and leave an organisation; and improve hiring processes to create a better match between the individual’s talent and job requirements.
“Also to provide flexible work arrangements for working parents and older workers; hold managers responsible for retention in their departments; start measuring the cost of turnover; and focus on the key jobs that have the most impact on profitability and productivity,” Pienaar says, adding that it is also worthwhile to examine those departments that have the highest turnover rates and design an effective employee orientation programme.
He says that big changes are happening on the technology front and that it is dramatically changing the way companies work and the way we do things.
In his recently published book The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which formed the backdrop for discussions at the World Economic Forum (WF), Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairperson of the WEF argues that: ‘Of many diverse and fascinating challenges we face today, the most intense and important is how to understand and shape the new technology revolution, which entails nothing less than a transformation of mankind. We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, what I consider to be the fourth industrial revolution is unlike anything humankind has experienced before.
‘Consider the unlimited possibilities of having billions of people connected by mobile devices, giving rise to unprecedented processing power, storage capabilities and knowledge access. Or think about the staggering confluence of emerging technology breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as artificial intelligence, robotic, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing, to name a few’.
And this is echoed by Aspasa member Andries van Heerden, CEO of Afrimat: “Today business is different to what it was yesterday. Just look at how things have changed in our industry over the last five years. For example, the local construction industry was dominated by the Big Five; today, it is completely the opposite. Though many of the big construction contractors may talk tongue-in-cheek about the small players, they have just been blown out of the water with the exception of one or two.”
Van Heerden continues: “The industry has changed a lot. Tomorrow, it is going to be different to what it is today. There are new factors driving the economy and new things that are becoming more important. It is all about strategic management; looking at the current environment and where we want to be; where the opportunities and where the threats are. What was good that is not good anymore? It’s all about considering those factors and playing that game over time.”
What then are some of the skills needed in the aggregate industry? The following are the most obvious:
• Safety and health
• Accounting and finance
• Information technology
• Manufacturing operations
• Sales and marketing
• Human resources
• Mining, civil, mechanical and industrial engineering geology
“So how do we get the right people and motivate and retain them without paying abnormally high wages,” Pienaar asks. There are many ways but top of the list has got to be the provision of safe, satisfying, challenging work with fair remuneration and a good chance of advancement and reward for hard work. Then there are people issues such as providing employees with responsibility and empowering them to be better every day. Give recognition where it is due and provide them with coaching to do their jobs better.
Getting employment right
Attracting the best possible talent for an operation can be made easier if employers look at the things that employees want to experience in their ideal workplace. The 10 most attractive attributes listed by job seekers are:
1. An employer’s or industry’s reputation for looking after and valuing employees.
2. Challenging and/or engaging work.
3. Training and development.
4. A fun, positive and vibrant working environment.
5. Career development and progression.
6. An attractive salary or financial incentives.
7. Recognition of performance.
8. Understanding the importance of family or life outside work.
9. Fair pay for a fair day’s work.
10. Definitive and strong company with industry value.
Who is Aspasa?
The Aggregate and Sand Producers Association of Southern Africa is a voluntary membership, private sector producers association. Aspasa represents its members with regard to policy positions, through various organs of the national and provincial governments. Contact and interaction also takes place with other relevant-forming entities. Contact is kept with other similar associations overseas.
The support that Aspasa gives its members is on the strategic and advisory side of business. A great deal of work is put into promoting the industry and the Association to the outside world; but also to ensure interaction among other companies/producers in the industry. Consultation and cooperation within Aspasa occurs on a voluntary basis without encroaching on the managerial prerogative of individual companies.
Aspasa is constantly striving for clarity and certain principles to be developed to ensure the sustainability of the industry. These include:
• A sound and comprehensive regulator authority.
• A financially sound and sustainable industry.
• An environmentally responsible industry.
• An empowering and developing industry.
• An industry that embraces the transformation imperatives.
Report and photographs unless otherwise accredited, by Dale Kelly.