- The number of fatalities and injuries in the sector has risen up from record lows in 2019.
- Industry has committed R40 million to a fall of ground action plan.
- Minister Gwede Mantashe encouraged mineworkers to be vaccinated against Covid-19 but unions have stood firm against a blanket approach to vaccination.
The mining sector is suffering a regression in safety performance as it continues to experience fatalities and injuries which could be prevented.
The provisional number of reported fatalities and injuries for 2021 stands at 58 and 1 810, respectively. This is a regression from a record low of 51 fatalities and 1 747 injuries in 2019.
"It is important to appreciate that mining is doing well this year in terms of its contribution to the economy. However, in terms of mine health and safety, it is not doing well. That is a contradiction that must be addressed. We equally need to focus on the health and safety aspect of our industry," Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, said at the Mine Safe Conference on Thursday. "We urge you to go back to the drawing board and constantly focus on safety performance."
While workers have a right to leave a dangerous working space, Mantashe urged them also not to risk their lives because of production bonuses.
In a media briefing which followed the conference, Themba Mkhwanasi, the CEO Kumba Iron Ore and a Vice President of the Minerals Council. Said industry had committed R40 million over the next five years to a "fall of ground action plan" which would focus on leading practices, policy development, behaviour, culture, operational discipline and monitoring.
Shake the disease
Mantashe, in his speech, said occupational disease is also a worry in the sector.
Pulmonary tuberculosis and noise-induced hearing loss remain a great concern particularly in the gold, platinum, and coal sectors. Silicosis is still of concern in the gold sector and non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes further exacerbate the disease burden in the industry, the minister said.
The Department of Mineral Resources, he said, will continue embarking on interventions which include engagement, safety stoppages of mines, enforcement and monitoring of health and safety at mine; and the promotion and support of measures to mitigate Covid-19, including the vaccine programme.
The National Union of Mineworker’s Stephen Nhlapo said the union supported the vaccination programme, "however we have a constitutional responsibility to make sure that our members are protected", he said.
"Those that choose for their own individual reasons that are within their rights, to refuse vaccination - they need to be recognised and appreciated. Vaccination must be a risk-based approach and not a blanket approach," he said.