The South African mining industry has reported a significant drop in the number of fatalities and injuries on mines, although official numbers from the Department of Mineral Resources are only expected at the end of the month or early next month.
Zero harm is the target, with the industry’s mantra: “Every worker returning from work unharmed every day.” The unofficial number of fatalities in 2014 had been placed at a record low of 84, the industry reported last week. It was expected that the official safety achievements would be about 9% better than the 93 fatalities reported in 2013, despite the industry adding more than 100 000 workers in the past decade to well over 500 000 now.
Chamber of Mines’ safety and sustainable development acting head Dr Sizwe Phakathi told Mining Weekly Online that significant progress over the past few years.
He said that 2014 was the seventh consecutive year of a drop in the number fatalities. In 2013, the industry made history when it reported less than 100 mining deaths for the first time. As at November 2014, 80 fatalities were officially reported.
In the past decade, fatalities have been cut, safety has been improved, exposure to dust and noise reduced, tuberculosis (TB) infection rates reduced, more effective TB/HIV infection control and treatment programmes have been implemented, and best practice to improve health and safety outcomes has been adopted, according to the Chamber of Mines.
Fatalities on mines had been cut from 615 in 1993 to 270 in 2003, and to 93 in 2013, said David Msiza, the chairman of the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) and the chief inspector of mines. “It was noted that 2014 achievements are an improvement from 2013 by 8%, but [are] 85% better than 1993.”
“The sector also saw a reduction of cases of noise induced hearing loss from more than 6 000 in 2003 to around 1 200 in 2013. TB rates in the gold sector have also halved.”
At the Mine Health and Safety Summit in November 2014, the council said it would launch a centre of excellence in April. It will lead industry efforts to promote innovation through research and training of mine workers. The centre will go beyond health and safety to align with the National Development Plan. “We need to reclaim our space as a country that leads in mining innovation and excellence,” Mike Teke, president of the Chamber of Mines, said at the time.
The centre is expected to undertake research; build capacity; facilitate research outcomes in areas such as rock engineering, human factors and occupational health and hygiene; and provide health and safety related training at all levels.
Relationships with major international research centres and programmes will be built.
Coal mines recorded a 93% safety improvement between 1993 and 2013, from 90 to seven fatalities, while the gold sector registered a 91% improvement from 436 fatalities in 1993 to 37 in 2013. The platinum sector had 29 fatalities in 1993 and 28 in 2013; this was down from a peak of 64 fatalities in 2004.
Overall, fatality rates improved 72% to 0.09 in 2013 from 0.32 in 2003. Australia, Canada and the US recorded a combined improvement rate of 29% to a rate of 0.05 in 2013 from 0.07 in 2003, Mining Weekly Online reported.
Injuries in South Africa fell from 8 515 in 1993 to 3 126 in 2013. In gold, injuries fell from 7 368 in 1993 to 1 252 in 2013; in coal, the drop was from 279 to 263 over the 20 years. In platinum, injuries went from 1 344 to 395.
In the 11 months to November 2014, injuries decreased 25% from 2 799 in the comparative period the year before to 2 095.
Harmony Gold had its first fatality-free quarter in the final quarter of 2014, while Lonmin had a calendar year without any deaths.