For his immense contribution to the quarrying and surface mining industry at large, Nico Pienaar has been named Person of the Year at the recently ended ASPASA ISHE Health and Safety awards.
This year, top performers in the ISHE 2021 audit were recognised at a virtual event hosted by ASPASA on April 13. One of the notable accolades of the event was bestowed to the association’s director, Nico Pienaar. For the past 24 years, Pienaar has been the force behind ASPASA, revolutionising the association from a small sand and aggregate focused body to become the recognised voice of the surface mining industry it is today.
Gert Coffee, chairperson of ASPASA, has commended Pienaar for his dedication and commitment to the industry over the past two decades, championing high levels of compliance and best practice. With his guidance, coupled with the efforts of the industry at large, ASPASA is this year celebrating six consecutive years of no fatalities at member operations. This, says Coffee, is a huge achievement which authenticates the association’s commitment to zero harm.
Speaking to Quarrying Africa, Pienaar says he is grateful to his peers at ASPASA for this recognition. “It is a great feeling to be honoured for my contribution to ASPASA and the industry at large. When I do my work, I do it with pride, and to receive an award is just a bonus,” he says. “A few years ago, I also got an award from the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, for my work at the Mine Health and Safety Council. These two awards are something I treasure, and I am very proud of.”
Pienaar took the reins at ASPASA in 1999. Armed with a Masters in Labour Law and Industrial Relations, he spent the early years of his career in industrial relations. Notably, he was the first industrial relations advisor to the South African building industry through BIFSA (now Master Builders South Africa), a leading national representative body in the building and construction industry.
He eventually became a trade unionist, and worked for various institutions, including the then Building Society Industry, and eventually the United Building Society before it became a bank, which is today known as ABSA in South Africa.
“I started my career at a law firm. At the time I was convinced that I wanted to be an attorney. To my surprise, the attorney’s job was not what I envisaged. Defending people who have done wrong was not something that I wanted to do for a living. Probably, that’s why ended up in industrial relations, as I felt that there were many rules and attitudes in the workplace that needed to be challenged,” he says.
Under Pienaar’s leadership, ASPASA expanded its scope from its traditional sand and aggregates focus in 2017, to cover several other areas of the surface mining industry, including salt, dimension stone, clay brick. Affiliation now includes mobile crushing contractors, formal quarries, rubble crushing, ash, coal and borrow pit subsectors.
Also included are associate memberships for organisations such as the National Occupational Safety Association and heavy machinery manufacturers. These are all required to be legally compliant with legislation such as the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA), environmental legislation and the Water Act.
As the membership scope extended, so has been the services offered by the association. ASPASA’s service offering covers legal compliance; local, international and government liaison; health and safety audits and training; environmental audit and training; technical and transport support; as well as training and education.
For Pienaar, an association must be of great value to its members. This, he says, is a lesson he learnt during his trade union days. “You have to offer value and be of great help to members, who obviously look up to you as an association. An industry association must be aware of the issues afflicting its members, something ASPASA has achieved over the years.”
Pienaar has also championed the advancement of women in such a male-dominated industry. “At ASPASA, we have taken an approach to desist from the term ‘women in mining’, as we feel that it segregates and undervalues their abilities. We rather refer to the topic as ‘gender justice’, which I feel is an appropriate term,” he says.
To help advance young people in the industry, Pienaar is currently driving a Young Professionals programme at ASPASA. “I feel sorry for the young people who in recent times have come into the workplace with little guidance. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation by limiting job shadowing and guidance opportunities in the workplace. As ASPASA, we believe we can play a leading role in bridging that gap,” says Pienaar.
Pienaar believes that the industry has a great future ahead. “Surface mining is here to stay. Sand and aggregate, for example, are the most mined commodities in the world. A growing global population means more infrastructure development, and ultimately an insatiable appetite for sand and aggregate. There are, however, some challenges in the industry, but I believe we will be able to find solutions for future growth,” concludes Pienaar.