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Chamber of Mines: Safety focus reduces fatalities

South AfricaChamber of Mines of South Africa acting head of safety and sustainable development Dr Sizwe Phakathi says that while the mining industry has not yet been able to achieve its goal of zero harm, it has made significant progress towards doing so.

Mineral Resources Minister Adv. Ngoako Ramatlhodi in January announced a decrease in mining fatalities. This result follows the trend set in 2013 when mining deaths dropped below 100 annually, and he applauded the sector’s steady progress. In 1993, 615 miners were killed, and the 2014 figure represents an 86% improvement.

The breakdown of fatalities per commodity during the year 2014 is as follows: gold, 44; platinum, 15; coal, nine; and other mines (chrome, iron ore and related), 16.

Most mining fatalities (35%) are grouped into “general classification,” which includes inhaling dangerous fumes, being struck by an object, and falling from heights. Meanwhile, falls-of-ground make up 30% and transportation-related deaths account for 17% of fatalities in the industry.

Injuries have also dropped over time, falling about 18%, from 3 123 in 2013, to 2 569 in 2014. However, many reported injuries are not new and are mainly due to repeated accidents. “Although this is the lowest ever reported, the department is still greatly concerned about the high number of injuries reported at our mines,” Ramatlhodi said.

Occupational diseases have decreased by 170% since 2003, from 18 371 to 6 810 cases in 2013. The biggest reductions included pulmonary tuberculosis and noise-induced hearing loss.

Despite this, seven fatalities had already been recorded in January alone.

Since setting the ten-year 2013 health and safety milestones, which aimed at achieving safety performance levels equivalent to international benchmarks and eliminating silicosis and noise induced hearing loss, Phakathi said the new safety milestones set out for the mining industry to achieve is the elimination of fatalities and injuries by December 2020 – which shows just how committed the CoM and its member companies are to safety.

In addition, the Chamber would also like to see, by December 2016, a 20% reduction in serious injuries per year.

“In doing so, we will unpack the other causes of fatalities and injuries (not just the fall-of-ground, machinery and transportation related accidents), but causes such as fires and explosions, as well as general accidents, says Phakathi.

In a bid to achieve these milestones, the Chamber has initiated the culture transformation framework (CTF) for the South African mining sector as approved and endorsed by the principals of the tripartite stakeholders in November 2011.

The post-2014 CTF consists of prioritised pillars to be met by December 2020, namely leadership, risk management focusing on incident and accident investigation systems, bonuses and performance incentives, leading practices including identification of critical controls on health and safety risks, diversity management and data management.

And once these have been met, Phakathi said additional pillars will be added until South Africa’s mining industry achieves its aim to completely eliminate fatalities and injuries going forward.

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Chantelle Kotze
Chantelle Kotze is a Johannesburg-based media professional. She is a contributor at Mining Review Africa (Clarion Events - Africa) and has created content for the media brand over the past 6 years.