Rising SA mine deaths need urgent attention

Deaths at South African mines increased by 27 percent in the first three months of the year, compared with the same period last year.

Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Zingaphi Jakuja said yesterday that there were 38 fatalities reported from January 1 to March 31 compared with 30 for the first quarter last year.

“The Department of Mineral Resources has raised its concerns with mining companies that have had fatalities and has subsequently written letters to their boards and is engaging with chief executives.

“Where necessary, notices of stoppage will be issued until safety concerns are addressed. Mine health and safety is not solely a government responsibility but that of all stakeholders in the sector,” she said.

Although the figures for the first quarter show an increase in fatalities, last year’s data showed a declining trend.

According to provisional figures released by the Department of Mineral Resources in January, South Africa’s mine fatalities declined by 24 percent last year, from 168 deaths in 2009 to 128 in 2010.

Despite the steady decline from 309 deaths in 1999, last year it was reported that South Africa’s mine safety record was still 50 percent worse than those of Australia, the US and Canada. Australia reported four fatalities in 2007/08, while the US had 23 deaths. Canada had eight mining fatalities in 2008.

In the first quarter, fatalities in North West doubled to 14 and deaths in the Free State rose to nine from five, according to trade union Solidarity.

In Mpumalanga fatalities dropped to three from five.

The latest data suggest that efforts to address safety issues in the country’s mines have not gained sufficient traction.

A major contributor had been the poor safety and health record by subcontractors and contractors working on mines, Solidarity researcher Leigh McMaster said yesterday.

As a result of concerns over this year’s record, the trade unions and the Department of Mineral Resources would organise a summit on health and safety. Unions saw the number of incidents pick up in the first quarter, McMaster said.

“The reason for the deaths might be complacency. We had a good run last year, and I think people are relaxing… not practising health and safety as they should.

“We are going to sit with more fatalities this year than last year. We are now going to seriously look at having a health and safety summit to have a serious discussion on improving safety.”

The traditional concern in the industry had been that contractors were not on the same level regarding safety as full-time employees. McMaster added that falls of ground and negligence were also problems.

Solidarity said there had been fatalities at Anglo Platinum, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony, Lonmin and Gold Fields since the beginning of the year.

AngloGold spokesman Alan Fine said the firm was working tirelessly to eliminate fatalities and it had shown improvements in the past few years.

The Chamber of Mines said it was very concerned about the increase in the number of fatalities this year.

Spokesman Jabu Maphalala said the chamber planned to have a chief executive roundtable on health and safety later this year.

“The roundtable will focus on ways to accelerate the implementation of the Tripartite Action Plan. We are also in consultation with the government and unions about steps that can be taken to reduce the number of fatalities.”

National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said yesterday that these latest fatality figures flew in the face of the claims made by the department that mine deaths had been reduced.

In January, the department announced that it would review the Mine Health and Safety Act, not only to strengthen enforcement provisions, but to simplify the administrative system for the issuing of fines and to reinforce penalties. The review aimed to remove ambiguities in certain definitions and expressions and to effect certain amendments to ensure consistency with other laws.

Source: Business Report


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