Johannesburg, South Africa — MININGREVIEW.COM — 12 January 2009 – Mine deaths in South Africa – the world’s largest precious metals producer – fell 23% last year to their lowest level since the first official records began in 1904.
Revealing this in a statement released here, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said the lower death rate of 170 had been achieved once the government had started temporarily closing mines after fatal accidents. “While the decline is significant, it is still not a cause for celebration,” added NUM, which produced the statistics. The government has yet to issue the official death toll.
Bloomberg News reports that inspectors had started suspending operations at most mines that recorded fatal accidents after the death toll had risen to 221 in 2007 – the first increase since 2002. In October 2007, a nationwide safety audit was ordered by then-President Thabo Mbeki, after more than 3 000 workers had been temporarily trapped underground at Harmony Gold’s Elandsrand mine. Workers last year started holding a day of mourning after most deaths.
The agency revealed that over the past century more than 54 000 miners had been killed in South Africa’s gold mines, which are the deepest and among the most dangerous in the world.
Official government records, kept by the Department of Minerals and Energy, started in 1904 when 382 gold miners were killed.
In last year’s worst accident, nine workers fell 58m to their deaths at Gold Fields Limited’s South Deep mine on 1 May. The company said a cage, used to transport workers down shafts up to 3.2 km deep, had fallen when a cable snapped.
In 1995, in the worst accident in the gold mining industry, 105 workers plunged more than 2 km to their deaths at the Vaal Reefs Mine – then operated by a unit of Anglo American Plc – after a cable supporting a cage had been severed by a runaway ore train.