One the challenges facing De Beers as it implements its US$2,2 billion Venetia Underground Project (VUP) in South Africa’s Limpopo Province is the training of its employees – and new recruits – to allow them to acquire the necessary skills to successfully transition from open pit mining to underground mining.
The VUP involves the development of one of the world’s most advanced underground mines. Highly mechanised, it will employ the sub-level caving method to mine up to 6 Mt/a of kimberlite ore to produce between 4,5 and 5,5 million carats a year of diamonds. Once the VUP’s ramp-up is completed, the underground workforce will number around 850 people.
While the caving method to be deployed at Venetia Mine is well established (De Beers used essentially the same method at its Finsch mine in the Northern Cape when it owned and operated it until it was sold in 2011), very few of its employees at Venetia Mine have any experience of it. Not only will they have to adapt to the very different demands of an underground mining environment as they transition to the VUP but they will also have to learn the very specific skills associated with highly mechanised sub-level cave mining.
To expedite the required training, De Beers has now commissioned a training facility at Venetia able to accommodate e-learning facilities for 65 learners and classroom sessions for 95 learners at any one time. The facility represents a total investment of R188 million. At its heart are five training rooms, all with video walls and servers, as well as sophisticated mobile machine simulators.
An underground simulation area will have an emergency rescue bay and control room able to replicate situations occurring underground that could require evacuation while a virtual reality blast wall will give trainees the opportunity to mark up and charge a face.
All training will be managed by a comprehensive training management system offering modules for self-paced learning. The system is integrated into the mine’s human resources information system.
The simulators – supplied by Thoroughtec – allow operators to be trained on the Sandvik equipment – primarily trucks, loaders, drill rigs and bolters – that has been selected for the VUP. Most of the machines are classed as ‘intelligent’, meaning that they can deliver data continuously to on-surface control rooms and can be operated remotely. The simulator training is complemented by a TMM (trackless mobile machine) mock-up area on surface. Trainees will spend 15 hours in the mock-up.
As a follow-up to the training received at the training centre, De Beers has partnered with mining contractor Redpath to further enhance the skills of TMM operators. A contingent of Redpath personnel – who will be on site for the next four years – will assist with skills transfer on some of the key mechanised equipment and ensure that safety and performance levels of operators are up to the required standards.
While the training centre will focus on imparting core underground mining and TMM skills to trainees, De Beers has also developed a training package which allows both technical and non-technical personnel to familiarise themselves with the sub-level caving method. The content has been converted and incorporated into the electronic learning platform.
The sub-level caving training material has been split into 10 modules covering, amongst others, subjects such as mine design and sequencing; drill and blast; cave propagation and subsidence; cave management; and caving hazards and hazard management.
The training centre and other training initiatives at Venetia Mine all form part of De Beers’ operational readiness framework, which is designed to facilitate a smooth migration from open-pit to underground mining in terms of people, processes and systems.