The health and safety of mineworkers, particularly fatalities, continue to be a great concern to the Department. The main contributors of fatalities are fall of ground, transport and general including fire accidents. Undoubtedly, human and behavioural factors cannot be left out of the equation in dealing with this challenge. Developing and implementing programmes to assist the sector is what drives the work of the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC), a statutory body tasked with advising the Minister of Mineral Resources on health and safety matters affecting mineworkers.
During 2018 up to the end of September, there has been 66 fatalities against 67 in the same period in 2017, which is a marginal improvement of 1% regression. The main contributor of fatalities are Gold (35), other (16), Platinum (8) and Coal (7) mines. The mine fatalities have also been exacerbated by three disaster accidents which occurred at Sibanye Gold and Phalaborwa mines. On the other hand, there has been a decrease in occupational diseases, where 4632 cases were reported in 2016, compared to 4483 cases during 2017.
All stakeholders in the sector also recognise that it cannot be business as usual as one death is one too many.
The number of people who have lost their lives is not good for the mining industry as reflected in the fatalities statistics performance report. This calls for a great deal of urgency from stakeholders to ensure that we reverse this alarming trend. This monumental task is one we do not take lightly because we are fully aware of the fact that the death of a mineworker will forever affect their family, worst of all in instances where the deceased mine employee was the sole breadwinner. It is also important to consider that the long-term sustainability of mining is dependant not only on its growth, competitiveness and transformation, but also on how well its workforce is cared for and safe.
In light of the above, the Minister of Mineral Resources, Mr Gwede Mantashe, requested that the 2018 Tripartite Summit which was scheduled to take place in November be brought forward in order for all stakeholders in the sector to collectively assess progress made in attaining our objective of “Zero Harm”, and to chart a way forward. The Minister has called on everybody to ensure that the health and safety of mineworkers is continuously protected in the mining industry. He further has urged all stakeholders to appreciate that mining is not only about the minerals but is about human beings.
Tripartite stakeholders in the sector will this coming week host the Summit with envisaged robust discussions on pertinent causes of injuries, health issues and fatalities. Amongst others, critical topics for discussion will include, Falls of Ground, Seismicity, Noise, TB, Right to Refuse Dangerous work, Occupational Lung Diseases (OLD), Fires, Explosions and the implementation of the Culture Transformation Framework. The commitment by leaders in the industry in driving the implementation of the milestones will also be part of the critical discussions.
The Summit will seek to review progress towards achievement of the milestones which were agreed upon by stakeholders at the 2014 Occupational Health and Safety Summit for implementation by 2024. Principal stakeholders will recommit themselves to the achievement of ‘Zero Harm’ in the South African Mining Industry and continue to strive to ensure that every mineworker returns from work unharmed every day. This is the responsibility of all stakeholders which include government; labour and the employers.
David Msiza is the Chairperson of the Mine Health and Safety Council.