SA’s mining fatality rate can still drop below last year’s record low of 128 if mining companies and their employees fully comply with safety policies and procedures, says David Msiza, the chief inspector of mines in the Department of Mineral Resources.
In a telephone interview with BusinessLIVE, he said he was “greatly concerned” by the fact that 2011 had started off badly with mining deaths totalling 50 between January 1 and May 9, 11% more than the 45 deaths reported for the same period last year. Last year, the fatality rate at the country’s mines fell by 24% between January 1 and December 31.
On a brighter note, he said there had been a 38% drop in mining injuries during the period, falling to 731 from 1,170 last year.
“I believe that we can still see an improvement on last year’s fatality rate if non-compliance with safety procedures and polices is dealt with as a matter of urgency,” said Msiza, stressing that his department would not hesitate to shut down mines that did not adhere to safety guidelines.
“We do not have to wait for a serious accident to happen before we take action. We can stop operations at a mine if our inspections show non-compliance or uncover evidence of dangerous activities.”
While injury figures up to May 9 show a significant reduction at gold, platinum and coal mines, the fatality picture is not as rosy. Injuries at gold mines fell to 346 from 473 last year, coal mines fell to 67 from 97 and platinum mines fell by the largest amount to 233 from 503.
In terms of deaths, gold mines fell to 23 from 25 and coal mines edged up to five from four. The biggest concern during the period was at platinum mines, where 15 workers died compared with six in the same period last year. Msiza attributed this partly to a higher than usual fatality rate at Lonmin mines, which historically had a low fatality rate.
Commenting more broadly on the higher death rate at platinum mines, he said this was also due to the lack of experience of new miners in the industry, adding that it was essential for all miners to go through rigorous health and safety training programmes.
With commodity prices hovering around record highs, Msiza said there was a tendency for mining companies to ramp up production, but this had to be done by “balancing production with health and safety”.
“The culture of health and safety has to be improved throughout our mining industry. We cannot do it alone and have to work with mining management and labour unions to improve this culture,” added Msiza.
“We will play an enforcement role, but with information sharing with mine management, unions and our inspectors. It has to be a continuous process and all-inclusive.”
Looking ahead, he said his department was working with the National Qualification Authority and the Mining Qualifications Authority to develop better health and safety skills within the industry.
Earlier this year, Chamber of Mines CEO Bheki Sibiya said up to 40,000 workers were expected to be trained in on-the-job health and safety inspection skills by 2015.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Mineworkers has become increasingly vocal about safety issues. It held a protest march in Rustenburg on May 7 as a result of the high number of deaths in the platinum industry so far this year.
It said that this was a build-up towards a national day of mourning scheduled for September.
In a statement issued on May 5, Erick Gcilitshana, the NUM’s national secretary for health and safety, said: “We are sick, we are tired, in fact we are sick and tired of the attitude of the mining industry when it comes to safety. When it comes to production, they take full responsibility, but when it comes to safety, they argue the responsibility lies with the workers.”
Source: Business Live, 12 May 2011
Author: Angus Macmillan