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Mining safety slips in 2021, with 55 fatalities in the country to date, says Minerals Council

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The gold sector has to date recorded the highest number of fatalities this year, a total of 23, followed by the platinum sector, 14, compared to the previous year.

The gold sector has to date recorded the highest number of fatalities this year, a total of 23, followed by the platinum sector, 14, compared to the previous year. Photographer: Norm Betts/Bloomberg News.

MINING fatalities for the year had climbed to 55 by the end of last week compared to 43 during the same period last year, according to figures released by Minerals Council South Africa on Friday.

This marks a second year of regression in the industry’s safety record; it recorded a total of 51 fatalities in 2019, the lowest number on record, and 60 last year.

The mining industry experienced one of its worst weeks in the past month, with two multiple-fatalities incidents, the council said.

Three workers at Sasol Mining’s Bosjesspruit Colliery in Mpumalanga died on Tuesday, following what the company described as an underground water compartment incident. A week earlier, at Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine near Carletonville, a seismic event resulted in a fall of ground that killed two employees.

The council said the gold sector had recorded the highest number of fatalities, 23, followed by the platinum sector, 14, compared to the previous year.

It said falls of ground remained the leading cause of fatalities which was a focus area for the council in its partnership, at the Mandela Mining Precinct, with the Department of Science and Innovation.

“We are seriously concerned about this regression in safety. We need to reflect, regroup, get back on track and minimise exposure of our people to hazardous situations,” said Themba Mkhwanazi, chairperson of the council’s Zero Harm Forum.

“With the regression we are experiencing, we need to put a lot more focus on technology and modernisation to improve skills and mining methods to keep employees safe,” he said.

In an open letter sent to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president, Joseph Mathunjwa, called for government intervention to stop the “bloodbath”.

Mathunjwa said the past month’s fatalities had almost doubled, to eight, compared to a year earlier and 2019.

He said that with the help of safety protocols, proper maintenance and investment in technology, safety risks could be mitigated.

“The problem, however, is that mining bosses have to continuously weigh up the value of investing in infrastructure, compared to declaring greater profits for investment in other operational priorities or paying dividends to shareholders. It is clearly a conflict of interest,” said Mathunjwa.

He said as mines increased their production and their profit due to the commodity super-cycle, they must also equally increase provisions for the health and safety of mineworkers.

The council said it was implementing the R46 million, five-year Elimination of Fall of Ground Fatalities action plan approved by the Zero Harm Forum and the Minerals Council Board.

Mkhwanazi said the council supported plans by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, organised labour, mine professional associations and mining suppliers to set up the MineSafe summit to urgently address the regression in safety. He said the council urged that the summit be held as soon as possible after the elections.

“The last quarter of the year is normally a time when higher vigilance is needed, so the urgency of holding the summit and addressing the regression in safety and agreeing solutions cannot be overstated,” he said.

Mkhwanazi said disruptions to the work environment caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with absenteeism and changes to front-line underground mining teams unsettling work patterns since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, had contributed to the setbacks in the mining industry’s safety performance.

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