South African mining health and safety is perceived as improving, following reductions in the number of fatalities and injuries in recent years.
The Department of Mineral Resources will publish mining health and safety statistics in February 2015. The reported number of mining deaths in 2014 is 84, a record low, the industry said in January 2015. The number excludes illegal miners (see a report on one of the multiple fatal incidents below).
There were 93 mining fatalities in 2013, despite the industry adding more than 100 000 workers in the past decade to a total over 500 000. However some production rates have dropped, or were intermittent, or disrupted by strikes, despite the general increase in labour numbers.
Chamber of Mines safety and sustainable development acting head Dr Sizwe Phakathi told Mining Weekly Online there was “significant progress” over the past few years, since 2014 was the seventh consecutive year of a drop in the number fatalities.
In 2013, the industry made history when it reported less than 100 mining deaths for the first time.
In the past decade, exposure to dust and noise was also reduced, tuberculosis (TB) infection rates reduced, more effective TB/HIV infection control and treatment programmes have been implemented, and best practice to improve health and safety outcomes has been adopted, according to the Chamber of Mines.
Fatalities on mines had dropped from 615 in 1993, to 270 in 2003, to 93 in 2013, said David Msiza, chairman of the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) and chief inspector of mines.
“Mining also saw a reduction of cases of noise induced hearing loss from more than 6 000 in 2003 to around 1 200 in 2013. TB rates in the gold sector have also halved.”
At the Mine Health and Safety Summit in November 2014, the council said it would launch a centre of excellence in April. It will lead industry efforts to promote innovation through research and training of mine workers.
The centre will go beyond health and safety to align with the National Development Plan. “We need to reclaim our space as a country that leads in mining innovation and excellence,” Mike Teke, president of the Chamber of Mines, said at the time.
The centre is expected to undertake research; build capacity; facilitate research outcomes in areas such as rock engineering, human factors and occupational health and hygiene; and provide health and safety related training at all levels. (See a separate post on the plan on Sheqafrica.com).
Mining health and safety statistics 2013
Coal mines recorded a 93% improvement between 1993 and 2013, from 90 to seven fatalities, while the gold sector registered a 91% improvement from 436 fatalities in 1993 to 37 in 2013.
The platinum sector had 29 fatalities in 1993 and 28 in 2013; this was down from a peak of 64 fatalities in 2004.
The official statistics exclude illegal miners, or zama-zamas, thousands of whom live and work for syndicates in disused mine shafts, some aided by security guards.
A total of 22 Zimbabwean illegal miners died in a South African disused mine in one incident in 2014.
The crew suffocated on carbon monoxide at a mine in Roodepoort, Johannesburg, while trying to evade arrest by the South African police force arresting and deporting illegal immigrants.
About 100 illegal miners worked at the same disused mine daily, going more than 30km in the shafts seeking gold ore, sometimes doing primitve metallurgy underground.
Some middlemen known as omalayitsha are paid about R3000 to help people sneak into South Africa through illegal crossing points. Some of the illegally mined gold appeared on the international market in Switzerland, causing a political scandal.
Of the 22 deceased Zimbabweans, 13 were from Nkayi, five from Gokwe South, two from Tsholotsho, one from Kwekwe, and one woman from Kezi. They were;
Australia, Canada and the USA recorded a combined fatality reduction rate of 29%, to a rate of 0.05 in 2013 from 0.07 in 2003, Mining Weekly Online reported.
Injuries in South Africa fell from 8 515 in 1993 to 3 126 in 2013. In gold, injuries fell from 7 368 in 1993 to 1 252 in 2013; in coal, the drop was from 279 to 263 over the 20 years. In platinum, injuries went from 1 344 to 395.
In the 11 months to November 2014, injuries decreased 25% from 2 799 in the comparative period the year before to 2 095.
• Source; SAinfo, http://www.southafrica.info/news/business/mine-deaths-27115.htm#ixzz3Q1kl9CBk and Nehanda Radio, Zimbabwe.
• See posts on the pitfalls of health and safety metrics and statistics, particularly on basing perceptions about OHS management on the number of deaths, by David Broadbent and other contributors on Sheqafrica.com.
* See posts on a damning academic report on the externalisation of mining occupational disease impacts to labour sending areas, including neighbouring African states, following failures of occupational health exposures and mining risk culture in previous decades.
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