Mining companies get away with minor sanctions when they should face full prosecution, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has said after five workers were killed at Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine.The union said there were many instances in which the families of those who died underground were never told what happened to their loved ones.They did not receive reports of investigations into mine accidents. Many of these reports were kept under wraps, the union claimed.“Investigations are done after every incident, but we never know what happens to the reports and whether their recommendations are implemented. Reports are often referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for possible prosecution, but in most cases you find these companies paying just a fine when people have died,” said NUM health and safety secretary Erick Gcilitshana.“We acknowledge that fewer fatalities were recorded in recent years, but one life is one too many. We still don’t know what caused most of those accidents. Workers continue to die and sustain serious injuries and we don’t see mining companies being punished when found to be in the wrong.”Five miner workers died underground following a “seismic incident” at the Kusasalethu shaft in Carletonville, Gauteng, last Friday. Motshewa Matuba, Mohlomi Mokhele, Relebokile Mokemane, Mohlabane Moganedi and Moss Setlhafuno were trapped underground. A large-scale rescue operation ended with the last two bodies recovered on Thursday.“We are looking forward to the investigation, to find out what exactly triggered the seismic event that led to the loss of lives at Kusasalethu mine,” Gcilitshana said. The Chamber of Mines reports that 73 people died in the mining industry last year, the “lowest in the history of the industry.“This marked an improvement of 5% year on year on 2015 and the industry certainly hopes to achieve a further decrease in 2017. “Even though significant progress has been made, the industry recognises that much remains to be done, and that every fatality is one too many,” said the chamber’s spokesperson, Charmane Russell.Statistics provided by the chamber show that fatalities have dropped, from 615 in 1993, to 73 last year.Deaths due to falling of ground, the main contributor to mining fatalities, decreased from 302 workers in 1993, to 24 in 2016.Russell said mining remained one of the most difficult industries to work in.“The South African mining environment is unique and exceptionally challenging.“Certain mines operate up to 5km underground where the virgin rock temperatures can reach 60°C,” she said.“In these and other circumstances, the safety of mine workers must take priority. But working together, South African mining companies, unions, employees and the regulatory authorities have made significant strides in improving the safety performance of South African mines.”She said that since 1994, the number of fatalities in the industry had declined by around 88%, while fatalities as a result of fall-of-ground incidents declined by 92%.City Press received no responses from the NPA and the department of mineral resources on what happened to mine accident reports and if there were consequences for wrongdoing.Minister Mosebenzi Zwane announced that an investigation into the Kusasalethu deaths had started. It began with an in loco inspection immediately after a briefing on Friday.Zwane said his department was concerned at the continued loss of life in the industry.“As we head towards the last quarter of the year, we ask that employers and the workforce remain alert and continue to prioritise safety, and as the regulator we will be increasing inspections,” he said.