Factors Affecting the Mechanical Efficiency of Men Shovelling Rock in Stopes

Wyndham, C. H. ; Morrison, J. F. ; Viljoen, J. H. ; Strydom, N. B. ; Heyns, A.
Organization: The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 2
Publication Date: Jan 10, 1969
Discussion M. J. Martinson* (Associate Member): This is another interesting paper in the series which the Human Sciences Laboratory is publishing on the physiological cost of the more strenuous manual tasks performed underground. As a mining engineer-albeit presently an academic one -this contributor is more concerned with the practical significance of the study in the field of stope cleaning than with physiological niceties, but before discussing some of the practical issues raised by the paper perhaps the authors would care to reply to lay comment on three physiological matters. Firstly, in two places the authors make statements to the effect that the maximum oxygen intake of 'average' (sic) Bantu mine workers is 3.0 l/min. What do the authors mean by 'average'? Maximum oxygen intake in the individual is probably some function of inter alia age, physical fitness, state of health, ambient partial pressure of oxygen, diurnal and/or seasonal changes in metabolism, and possibly cumulative exposure to dust and other occupational contaminants. Since maximum oxygen intake is apparently such an important quality in manual labourers we ought to have a clear picture of its distribution in the entire labour force, and also know precisely how the individual's quantum is affected by factors such as those mentioned above. Secondly, arising out of the same statements and ignoring the reservation implicit in the previous paragraph, is it correct to say that the 'average' Bantu mine worker has a maximum intake of 3.0 l/min? In the August 1966 issue of the South African Journal of Science four of the present co-authors reported the mean maximum oxygen intake of a random sample of 338 Bantu recruits of different tribes to be 2.63 l/min with a standard deviation of 0.542 l/min, and these figures were repeated in a paper published in the November 1968 issue of this Journal. Admittedly the mean maximum oxygen intake of the six subjects used in the present study was 3.05 l/min, but since they were selected on the grounds of previous shovelling experience they can hardly be regarded as being 'average' recruits. Thirdly, it seems to me that the authors are perhaps a little uncritical in their acceptance of the '50 per cent of maximum oxygen intake' level of activity for endurance work. I am not unmindful of the evidence upon which this level is based, but I suggest that the evidence is at best tenuous and that the whole topic of fatigue and 'optimum' levels of productivity under conditions of high muscular activity and considerable psychological stress is a lot more complicated than would appear from the authors' ready acceptance of the 50 per cent level. Under present working conditions the question is largely rhetorical because it would need an army of supervisors to ensure that all members of a typical gang work at 'optimum' levels throughout the shift, but if individual performance should ever become more readily determinable the issue might become crucial to management and malayisha alike. So much for physiological matters; now a few random thoughts on some wider, practical issues raised by the paper. In the paragraph headed Material the statement is made that 'The mixture (of fine, medium-sized and bigger rocks) was considered to be representative of an average underground rock sample'. Elsewhere in the report the authors specifically draw attention to the effect of particle size on the oxygen consumption of men shovelling graded material, and intuitively one imagines that the size distribution of the material being shovelled would be highly significant in a study such as this. Presumably the authors were forced to assess size distribution subjectively because of the lack of objective data on the subject, and possibly the necessity for this assumption highlights how little we know quantitatively about any of the variables in stope cleaning systems. In this connection it may be remarked that although the present study was largely designed to show how dip and stoping width effect energy expenditure in shovelling, no data are given-nor, probably, are they available-to show how the industry's stoping tonnage is distributed in terms of these two factors. It seems to me that if the mining industry seriously hopes to improve stope productivity it must start by measuring the basic variables in existing systems. Elaborating somewhat on the previous paragraph, there also seems to be a tremendous gap between the present study-and its predecessors-and the prospect of gainfully using the information so carefully garnered by the authors. It would be reassuring to hear from the authors that their work on the physiological aspects is being integrated in some master plan for increasing productivity of manual labour. This I fear is not the case, and if productivity has changed at all in recent years I would hazard a guess that the change has been brought about by random factors rather than by systematic engineering design. The Human Sciences Laboratory has worked extensively in stopes in the past, and possibly the time has come when it should widen the ambit of its operations to include engineering-type analyses of cleaning systems, with particular emphasis on the economics of rapid cleaning by manual labour. Perhaps experiments could be conducted with stakhanovite-type gangs consisting of men selected for their high maximum oxygen intake and superior motivation; these men might be offered special incentives in the shape of extra pay
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