William Joughin – a former chairman of SRK Consulting (South Africa) and one of the country’s leading rock engineering specialists – has been inducted as the new president of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM).

The induction took place at the SAIMM’s annual general meeting on 17 August 2023, where Joughin presented a customary presidential address. His chosen topic was ‘Managing geotechnical uncertainty and risk in mining.’

“It is certainly an honour to be invited to this position, especially given the strong links that have developed between SRK and the SAIMM over the years,” he said. He is the fourth SAIMM president from this international consulting network of engineers and scientists. SRK co-founder Oskar Steffen held the post in 1989, while Roger Dixon took on the role in 1998 and Dick Stacey in 2003.

William Joughin – SRK Consulting corporate consultant (Rock Engineering) and SAIMM president. Image credit: SRK Consulting

William Joughin – SRK Consulting corporate consultant (Rock Engineering) and SAIMM president. Image credit: SRK Consulting

Joughin noted the vital role that the SAIMM plays in providing a forum for professionals from various disciplines in the mining sector to engage with challenging technical issues of the day. As the global economy moves toward a lower carbon future, mining today assumes an important obligation to responsibly generate the minerals that will make this shift possible.

“Southern Africa is already the focus of considerable attention in the search for battery and other metals, and the SAIMM works in support of all those professionals who bring their depth of expertise to this effort,” he said. “We also work closely with the wide range of associations and institutes that represent mining-related disciplines, to develop the skills and insights needed to meet and raise standards.”

He said he would take forward the exciting strategic corporate partnerships which the SAIMM is developing with mining companies – to cement their collaboration by closely aligning the skills base of SAIMM members with the current and emerging challenges of the sector.

Joughin’s career has seen him at the cutting edge of geotechnical engineering, making important contributions to understanding and quantifying risk within mining operations. His career-long involvement in deep level gold mines – where rock bursts and seismicity were among the key issues – has extended into different commodities, depths and mining methods.

“I have taken an interest in the more challenging aspects of rock mechanics under various conditions, reviewing and investigating some very unusual and difficult cases,” he explained. “Since joining SRK in 1998, I have taken a deep interest in the technical and even mathematical aspects of risk, and how mines can quantify and mitigate their specific risks in the geotechnical sphere.”

This therefore forms the context for Joughin’s presidential address at the SAIMM AGM. He pointed out that high-consequence events – which are rare – are difficult to anticipate and to design for because they involve extraordinary circumstances or conditions.

“In the past, severe unanticipated events may have been treated as natural events or ‘acts of God’,” he said. “However, society now has much greater expectations and it is essential to have policies and procedures in place that enable appropriate management of these rare, high-consequence risks.”

He has published over 50 articles on rock engineering, earning a gold medal from the SAIMM and an Alec Wilson Award from the South Africa National Committee on Tunnelling (SANCOT) for his outstanding papers. Joughin is past president of the South African National Institute of Rock Engineering (SANIRE), as well as past vice-president for Africa of the International Society for Rock Mechanics (ISRM).

His contribution to his chosen field has been considerable, including the chairing of four international rock engineering conferences and two schools – events that SAIMM organises in partnership with the SANIRE. He has also had a long involvement with the SAIMM itself, joining initially as a student, and serving as a council member since 2008; he is a member of the publications committee, and has served as treasurer since 2020.