Johannesburg – Although fatal accidents in the mining industry reduced by 5% in 2016, there is a general air of disappointment among different stakeholders.
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane released the health and safety statistics for the industry at a press briefing at Harmony Gold in Randfontein on Thursday.
The statistics showed that fatalities had come down from 77 in 2015 to 73 in 2016. The major contributors to these fatalities were gold mines (30) and platinum mines (27). Followed by coal mines (5) and other mines such as diamond, chrome, copper and iron ore (12).
Fatalities in the platinum sector increased in the past year from 21 to 27.
“We are observing this increase in the platinum belt and interpreting it as a result of the fact that when workers fight against each other, the employers relax the health and safety procedures, standards and policies which lead to the spike in fatalities and injuries,” said the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in a statement.
“We say we are disappointed because we are talking of breadwinners, not just figures here,” the labour union added.
Trade union Solidarity added that the new figures show “no significant” improvement from the previous year. Deputy general secretary for occupational health and safety and sustainable development, Advocate Paul Mardon, said the number of fatalities and injuries were “unacceptably high”.
In 2016, there were 2662 reported injuries, down 15% from 3138 in 2015.
Mardon said that 2016 was a difficult year for the industry, amid problems such as the DMR’s section 54 stoppages, rivalries among trade unions and increasing retrenchments that shifted attention away from health and safety.
“It appears that the mining industry is losing its focus and commitment as far as health and safety is concerned,” he said.
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Similarly, in a statement, Chamber of Mines President Michael Teke added: “While fewer people lost their lives during 2016, we are disappointed that there have been any deaths at all. Our goal must be zero harm.”
“We cannot and will not accept that deaths in mining are inevitable,” he added.
According to Teke, the safety performance of South African mines compares favourably with other sectors, such as construction, and similar mines in the USA, Australia and Canada. South African coal mines continue to be among the safest mines in the world.
He commended the role of the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate for its diligence in recording and investigating incidents and accidents.
“No other industry in South Africa reports on safety and health in the same degree of detail, accuracy and transparency.”
Zwane was equally disappointed with the statistics.
“We welcome the progress but we are not happy because people are still dying, families are still losing their loved ones and we cannot celebrate that,” he said.
“We cannot rest until we achieve zero harm where a worker can go home every day, unharmed.”