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South African PPE innovator develops spine protection gear

“Current PPE gear on the market includes helmets, safety boots, overalls, and goggles, but none of these offer support to the spine, shoulders, ribs, or kidneys,” explains 23 year old Sello Malinga.

In 2015, Malinga came up with concept of the Spinetector Safety Costume, a safety suit that is used to minimise the impact of injuries sustained by mineworkers, when their upper bodies are struck by heavy machinery or rocks.

“The Spinetector South African PPE innovator developed spine protection PPE gear aims to reduce injuries of the spine, shoulders, ribs, and kidneys of mine workers caused by heavy equipment or rocks. This will save companies money by reducing the risk of injuries or potential disabilities.”

Malinga developed further developed his concept with the Vaal University of Technology, followed by a prototype development with the Technology Innovation Agency. He is currently in the process of testing the product with the Mine Health and Safety Council

The Spinetector will be made from carbon fibre – a material that is lightweight but has been proven to resist considerable impact. Weighing only 1 kg, it comprises padding in all the necessary areas of the body, is breathable and allows for natural movement.

Determined to succeed

Malinga has always had a particular interest in science since he was in school. To that end, he participated in many science expos such as the Eskom Expo for Young Scientist and other educational roadshows.

The inspiration for the Spinetector manifested while Malinga was in Grade 10 in 2013. “Hailing from the mining town of Stillfontein – where we often experienced mild earth tremors – the idea comes as a result of realising that many devastating fatalities occur in underground mining operations,” he says.

However, his humble beginnings meant that Malinga lacked the funds to pursue his love for science at a tertiary level. However, that was not going to deter him and Malinga decided to pursue a career as an entrepreneurship with the intention of making his Spinetector a reality.

He spent hours in the public library making use of free internet in order to research PPE equipment and common injuries in the mining sector. Subsequently, he developed a concept of his safety gear using recycled materials.

After pursuing various R&D and investment organisations, Malinga got the nod to develop his idea through an award from the Office of the President in 2017.

Going international

While development and testing of the prototype are ongoing, Malinga is keenly focused on securing funding to develop the Spinetetector. He vision is one step closer to reality after he was a winner at the 2019 The SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards.

Launched in 2011, the Social Innovation Awards invest in sustainable innovative business ideas that can solve social problems. This includes, but is not limited to energy, mining, water, health, education, housing, and food security.

“With the funding, I can now produce 50 samples of my product for technical testing at a lab and practical testing at mining sites. I will then be able to certify the product with the South African Bureau of Standards,” says Sello. What’s more, further investment from SAB will ensure funding for enterprise development for his company.

However, Malinga is not just focused on providing a safety solution for the South African mining sector, rather he wants to present the Spinetector to the International Labour Organisation in the hope that it will make it international best practice when it comes to preventing spinal injuries in the mining sector.

In addition, Malinga is already making his presence felt on international forums where he hopes his presentations will garner investment interest for the Spinetector.

“I was part of a delegation of young entrepreneurs who travelled to Switzerland in October to pitch to venture capitalists and explore business expansion opportunities in Switzerland and Europe,” he explains. What’s more, last month Malinga was the only person to represent South Africa at the BRICS Young Scientist Forum in Brazil.

Paying it forward

Once developed, the Spinetector will contribute significantly to the Zero Harm initiative.

However, Malinga is keen to give others from less fortunate backgrounds a chance to be a part of his success.

“Manufacturing the Spinetector means job opportunities for many young people. Furthermore, I also want to implement a learnership programme to encourage skills development in the PPE industry, he states.

Malinga draws his inspiration from coal mining investor and self-made billionaire, Quinton van der Burg. “I share similar business experiences with him.

He started his business while he was young, encountered several failures with his cellphone business, but he did not quit on his entrepreneurial journey.”

Despite his humble background, Malinga remains determined to provide a sustainable mine safety solution is the near future, proving that with dedication and perseverance, you can achieve success in the face of adversary.

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