South African Mineral resources Minister Ngoako RamatlhodiFatalities in the mining industry have dropped by 10% to the lowest level ever in South Africa’s history, according to Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi.

In 2014, 84 miners were killed, which is down from 93 in 2013. “The breakdown of fatalities per commodity during the year 2014 is as follows: gold, 44; platinum, 15; coal, nine; and other mines, 16,” he told reporters in Pretoria on Friday. Other mines include diamond, chrome, copper, and iron ore mines.

“It is encouraging to note that 2014 mine fatalities are the lowest ever recorded in the history of mining in South Africa,” he added. The decrease in mining fatalities follows the trend set in 2013 when mining deaths dropped from over 100 annually, and Ramatlhodi applauded the sector’s steady progress. In 1993, 615 miners were killed, and the 2014 figure represents an 86% improvement.

2015 is off to a bad start

Nevertheless, 7 workers have already been killed in January 2015, and the minister said “I want to convey my serious concern that we continue to experience loss of life in the sector. It is with deepest regret and sadness that so early in 2015, seven mine workers have already lost their lives.”

Gold and platinum mines are main contributors to accidents and fatalities, he said. “This is regrettable, as we believe that these mines should be at the forefront in terms of the appropriate systems and expertise to enhance health and safety. Workers’ health and safety is crucial to mining's long-term sustainability, hence our steely resolve to implement enforcement measures in terms of the law.”

Considering the stats

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.

“The gold sector continues to report a higher number of occupational diseases than all the other sectors. The poor implementation of health programmes at some mines remains a major concern,” Ramatlhodi said.

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  1. The claims by DMR and the Industry that mine accidents and fatalities have dropped over the last nine years should be measured against the following realities:
    1) the financial crisis starting in 2008. I was in NUM offices in Rustenburg soon after the crisis started and it was like a railway station at peak time with desperate recently retrenched workers. This implies that between 2008 and 2010 there was a massive slowdown in platinum mining. Despite this the price never recovered, due to overproduction of platinum in the preceding decade and the hoarding of the commodity in Switzerland.
    2) From 2010 to 2015 the industry was plagued with major strikes which shut down operations especially in platinum for significant parts of almost every one of those years, either staggered as the strikes spread from one operation to another and from one company to another, or, as was the case in 2014 where platinum was shut down for almost half the year by AMCU. Obviously there would be fewer accidents and fatalities. Also note that mines take long to become operational after a strike as workers have to be re-inducted.
    3) We have been in a commodity recession for the last two years also impacting on production.
    These figures the DMR and the industry are bragging about therefore tell only part of the story, as is usual with industry propaganda. Now go and look at the numbers of person hours lost to strikes, the amount of time the mines were standing still, then look at the fatalities and accidents and recalculate them as if the mine was operational for the full year, that way you would get a reflection of what fatalities would have been if production had not been interrupted.