Dealing with the detonation demand

Mining can be a dangerous business and the risks involved are only worth pursuing if stringent care is taken. With this in mind it comes down to companies such as drilling and blasting specialist Jef Drill & Blast to take care of the pyrotechnics and electronic detonations required for mines to reveal their hidden payloads.

With a turnover in excess of ZAR300 million, Jef Drill & Blast has emerged from depths of recession, with aplomb.

In general the resources we are majorly operating in are really on the up especially now that the export markets are stable again, says Jef Drill & Blast managing director Johan Pieterse. The only thing that we see threatening the business is the current labour trends in South Africa.

The company has a 300-strong workforce and a very impressive staff turnover of less than one per cent a year, according to Pieterse, who says that despite union action and strikes disrupting certain industries in South African, Jef Drill & Blast operations look likely to continue unhindered due to its good staff relationships.

We have a very good relationship with all our people, notes Pieterse. But it’s the outside influence we’re worried about.

Within the company we are a well-oiled machine, with things ticking over and under control. We’ve got a great consumer base, great people working for us, great equipment and we are owned by a great company with great senior management figures; so as it stands everybody is happy, he asserts.

A rich history

This year the company is celebrating its 21st birthday and has, in the past two decades, built up a colourful history.

Pieterse joined the company in 1994 and two years later was part of a team that led a management buyout of the firm. In 1997, Jef Drill & Blast founder Peter Francis retired, at which point Pieterse and his team took over the running of the company.

Following ten successful years of growth, the specialist mining firm was bought out by South African mining giants Sentula Mining Limited in 2007.

The recession, however, was just around the corner. Jef Drill & Blast initially struggled through the financial downturn, and as a result is today ploughing much of its focus into the coal mining sector.

Pieterse says that the company indirectly lost business through the global decline in gold, having previously worked with clients within that industry and in the diamond mining sector.

We were working on projects that actually closed down or mothballed, says Pieterse. The fact that we suffered as well led to us to lose 50 per cent of our business in 2009 because of the recession; but we realised that the country needs coal to supply people with electricity.

The company currently uses 45 specialist drilling rigs in the opencast mining sector, and has its operational eyes focused on the growing coal sector in southern Africa.

Jef Drill & Blast is a key division within Sentula, servicing all of its opencast mining projects as well its own expanding list of clients.

Formerly known as Scharrig Mining Limited, Sentula has been listed on the main board of the Johannesburg Securities Exchange since 1993.

Involved in opencast mining and rehabilitation with operations in 12 countries across the African continent, Sentula is also one of the major suppliers of outsourced mining and rehabilitation in the South African coal mining industry, and has grown to become the leading opencast coal mining contractor in the country.

With such a wealth of managerial talent to turn to at Sentula, Pieterse says that Jef Drill & Blast has found itself in a fortunate position.

Safety first

Working for Jef Drill & Blast may sound like fun, but causing explosions and detonating dynamite is not child’s play. The company deals with safety in the most serious manner possible, notes Pieterse, who says safety is part of the firm’s fabric.

It is a dangerous business, but it is also like driving a car, he remarks. You can do it safely if you stick to the rules and regulations.

Safety for us is a paramount concern and we start off with a safety perspective in everything we do. We undergo a constant process of training and retraining with our employees, in order to keep them up to speed with the latest safety developments, and we also try to make it interesting for them, he adds. Safety is our lifestyle and it is not something we enforce with our staff.

To further push through his point about the company’s attitude towards safety, Pieterse says that it is something the firm lives and describes it as like a religion in our business.

Removing the hassle

In a marketplace that needs professional blast and drill specialists in order to function, Jef Drill & Blast is busy setting itself apart from the competition.

We have been a very good service provider in the past few years and our clients expect us to make the customer number one in our business, says Pieterse.

We provide a unique service and product, and it’s something that a lot of mining companies can’t do themselves.

We are sensible and we are able to allow the companies we work with the chance to focus on what they are good at mining meaning we can handle the earth-moving equipment.

We reckon what we can do is take a huge hassle factor out of the hands of our customers, he stresses.

In the next few years the company is targeting a slow, but steady expansion, notes Pieterse.

We are slowly, but surely, looking to develop other markets and it is not a strange thing for us to work in other sectors of mining, he reveals. Mozambique is starting to make its mark on the map now in regards to coal mining, as is Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where our sister company does a lot of exploration for gold and coal, so these are markets we’re certainly looking at, along with Botswana.

Having recovered from the recession with a bang, and having detonated a steady plan for future growth, Jef Drill & Blast looks set to embrace an explosive future.