The South African Chamber of Mines notes that fall of ground related safety incidents have been a significant area that joint industry efforts have focused on most intensively over the past several years.
“Addressing fall of ground incidents, particularly at deep-level mines, is reflected in the more than R150 million that the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) has invested in falls of ground research,” the Chamber of Mines said in a statement.
Furthermore, through the MHSC, more than R250 million has been spent on research into the seismicity associated with our deep-level mines. In addition, R40 million has been spent on fundamental and applied research and technology transfer.
The research outcomes have led to new mine designs and methods. As a result, the number of fatalities associated with seismicity fell from 48 in 2003 to 14 in 2017.
Since 2017, the industry has noted with concern the increase in the number of rockbursts related to seismic activity while the number of rockfalls, which is typically the main cause of falls of ground, decreased.
To better understand and address this concern, the Mining Industry Occupational Safety and Health Fall of Ground task team has been established. Leading practices on rockbursts in particular are being developed and the findings will be shared across the industry.
Fall of ground incident at Sibanye-Stillwater operation claims lives
The need to continually address fall of ground safety incidents in the South African mining industry was once again thrust into the spotlight when gold miner Sibanye-Stillwater experienced a fall-of-ground incident at its Masakhane mine at the Driefontein operations as a result of a seismic event on Thursday, 3 May 2018.
The seismic incident resulted in 13 mineworkers being trapped underground. Six of the employees, were successfully rescued and transported to hospital and remain in a stable condition, while the remaining seven of the 13 employees who were retrieved, passed away from injuries sustained during the incident.
Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman noted that while the company’s deep level mining layouts and support systems are designed to cater for this level of seismicity, Sibanye-Stillwater, together with the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and other stakeholders, will be conducting a comprehensive investigation into this incident, in order to establish the cause of the incident and what actions need to be taken, to ensure this never happens again.
Union remains concerned about fatalities
Adv. Paul Mardon, Solidarity’s deputy general secretary for occupational health and safety, says that despite the many steps that have been taken to ensure mine safety and a constant decline in mining fatalities and mine injuries has been achieved up to 2016 the trade union remains concerned about the increase in fatalities in mines since 2017.
“Mineral Resources Minister, Gwede Mantashe, has not yet announced the official health and safety figures for mines in 2017, but according to provisional indications, 86 miners died in South African mines in 2017, compared to the 73 mining fatalities in 2016; the 77 in 2015; and the 84 in 2014. Preliminary figures for 2018 also look bleak with 33 fatalities recorded to date, compared to the 28 during the corresponding period last year, and the 25 during the corresponding period in 2016,” says Mardon.
According to Mardon, a decrease in the number of falls of ground has been reported. He, however, pointed out that the increase in fatalities due to falls of ground is cause for concern.
“It shows that the severity of falls of ground is on the increase. In 2016, falls of ground in South African mines totalled 459 (of which 249 occurred in gold mines), compared to the preliminary total of 437 (of which 213 occurred in gold mines) in 2017. According to preliminary figures for 2018, 116 falls of ground (43 of which were in gold mines) occurred to date already, compared to the 156 (79 of which took place in gold mines) during the corresponding period in 2017,” he says.