November 24, 2017

South African unions concerned about increase in mining fatalities

Rescue operation. Photo/Courtesy of Workplace Safety

The number of fatalities in SA’s mining industry has increased for the first time in 10 years.

The Chamber of Mines has recorded the deaths of 76 mine workers who were killed in mine-related accidents between January and October 2017. The figure is already three higher than 2016’s of 73 deaths.

The numbers do not include the assumed deaths of Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyerende who were trapped inside a container after the collapse of ground at Lily Mine in Mpumalanga in 2015.

Mining trade unions have called on government to prosecute mining bosses over the deaths and for a commission of inquiry to be instituted to investigate the overall safety of the country’s mines.

The Department of Mineral Resources said that it too was concerned about the spate of mine accidents.

The Chamber of Mines has described as “regressive” the increase in mining fatalities following improvements over the past decade.

However, more worrying for the body that represents the country’s mining houses, which include some of the biggest producers globally, was that the majority of the deaths were due to ground falls.

The country’s gold mines are among the deepest in the world and experts have in the past voiced concern about the dangers accompanying production at such operations, which include rockfalls and poisonous gas explosions.

Falls of ground have also been said to occur as soon as the surface is exposed after blasting or after machine cutting.

Chamber of Mines spokeswoman, Charmane Russell, said there has been 27 fall-of-ground fatalities in 2017 compared with 24 in 2016. “The chamber has noted with concern that there has been an increase in the number of rock bursts recently while the number of rockfalls decreased,” she said.

The Mining Industry Occupational Safety and Health Fall of Ground team was developing leading practices on rock bursts, which would be shared with all parties involved in deep level mining, Russell said.

The National Union of Mineworkers has laid the blame for the accidental deaths at the door of mining companies, saying that the bosses were focused on profit at the expense of employees.

It also blamed the ineffectiveness of the Department of Mineral Resources, which is responsible for suspending the mining licences of companies whose safety procedures were found wanting.

“We are extremely worried. This is unacceptable and shows employers do not care about the lives of black mine workers in this country,” NUM spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu said.

Department of Mineral Resources spokesman Fidel Hadebe said the department was committed to invoking section 54 of the Mine Health and Safety Act over safety concerns even though it had faced opposition in past instances when it issued notices.

“Unfortunately though, when the department applies this instrument it gets accused of fighting certain battles as was the case recently with Royal Bafokeng when a section of the mine was closed due to shortcomings as far as safety was concerned,” he said.

Last week, inspectors ordered Royal Bafokeng Platinum to suspend operations at its North shaft.

Hadebe said it was important for the industry to explore how to ensure that deep mining did not lead to an increase in the number of deaths.

Source: Business Day

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