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Steps being taken to ensure safety of miners

Photo: Supplied

Photo: Supplied

A report by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) was released on 15 December to identify policy reforms that help strike a more appropriate balance to keep mineworkers safe and ensure sustainability of mining companies. Health and safety challenges have long been severe in South Africa’s mines and have been a concern for government and mining companies for over a century.

Dr Anthea Jeffery, head of policy research at the IRR, who wrote the report titled ‘Deep and Dangerous: Health and Safety in Our Mines’ says to a large extent, in the last 20 years, challenges have been successfully addressed by the mining industry through research, technology and health and safety protocols. She says the industry has embraced ‘zero harm’ targets for fatalities and new cases of silicosis, the lung disease, are coming closer to being met by 2020 and 2024.

Dr Jefferey emphasises the importance of policy and regulation to safeguard lives and health and says given seismicity and human error, deaths in deep mines will always be difficult to prevent with mine fatalities at an average of 90 deaths a year since 2012. She says these however, are not much greater than those in construction and are far below the average 13 500 deaths on the roads each year.

On 6 November, the South African Chamber of Mines, noted that fatal accidents in mines made up 76 fatalities in 2017, above the 73 reported in 2016. The chamber says it was disappointed at the deterioration in safety performance during 2017 and at the number of accidents related to seismic activity as well as fall of ground incidents.

They said it was particularly disappointing given the consistent improvement the industry has seen over the past two decades. Between 1993 and 2016, the number of fatalities in the industry declined by around 88% and the Mine Health and Safety Council, a body representing government, organised labour and business, recognising that South Africa operates the deepest mines in the world, has invested R150 million in falls of ground research.

Chris Griffith, CEO of Anglo American Platinum and chairperson of the Chamber’s CEO Zero Harm Forum, noted that fatalities from seismic events (rockbursts) have increased whilst rockfalls have decreased. He added that a task team led by Chris Sheppard, head of AngloGold Ashanti South Africa and sponsor of the Mining Industry Occupational Safety and Health Fall of Ground team, would develop a summary of rockburst leading practices and propose best ways to share these efforts with those in deep level mining.

“Key components of the CEO Zero Harm Forum strategy is demonstration of industry leadership at CEO level; sharing company experiences and helping each other deal with and solve key challenges; as well as establish working protocols with industry stakeholders and communities. CEOs are doing all in their power to make mining more safe and to work with other stakeholders in the industry to ensure mineworkers return home from work unharmed every day,” says Griffith.

In September, Mosebenzi Zwane, Minister of Mineral Resources, appealed for extra caution to be taken on health and safety in the mines following the fall of ground accident at Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu Mine on 25 August, where five employees lost their lives. He said they are continuing to engage with business and labour unions to look at how we can together ensure positive strides we have made on health and safety are not reversed.