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Miners call for urgent summit to address rise in fatalities in SA

South Africa’s peak mining body wants a MineSafe summit held urgently to address the concerning rise in fatalities.
Miners call for urgent summit to address rise in fatalities in SA Miners call for urgent summit to address rise in fatalities in SA Miners call for urgent summit to address rise in fatalities in SA Miners call for urgent summit to address rise in fatalities in SA Miners call for urgent summit to address rise in fatalities in SA

Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen operations

Staff reporter

The Minerals Council South Africa said it supported the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, organised labour, professional associations and suppliers in arranging the summit this month but asked it to be expedited.

It wants the summit held as soon as possible after the local government elections, which are on today, to "urgently address the regression in safety".

The industry had just experienced one of its worst weeks, with two multiple fatalities incidents, the council said. 

At October 28, the number of mine fatalities was 55, compared with 43 at the same time last year.

"This is the second year of regression in the safety performance since the 2019 record low of 51 fatalities," the council said.

There were 60 fatalities in 2020.

Technology the key

The council believes technology is part of the answer, a statement which comes as unions have just joined in playing a role in mine modernisation plans, an historic development announced last week.

There needed to be a greater focus on technology to keep employees safe, said Themba Mkhwanazi, who is CEO of Kumba Iron Ore and chairs the council's CEO Zero Harm Leadership Forum which met on Friday.

Leaders at the forum recommitted to achieving fatality-free operations.

"We see technology as the way to significantly reduce our risks and improve safety," Mkhwanazi said.

"The last quarter of the year is normally a time when higher vigilance is needed so the urgency of holding the summit and addressing the regression in safety and agreeing solutions cannot be understated."

Fall of ground, COVID-19 among factors

The council said COVID-19 disruptions were a factor in the regression.

Absenteeism and changes to front-line underground mining teams, unsettling work patterns and flows since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, were among the causes of setbacks to the mining industry's safety performance, it said.

The council said it was tackling the three main causes of fatalities through its CEO-led Khumbul'ekhaya health and safety strategy.

The main cause was fall of ground, responsible for more than 20 of last year's 60 deaths, followed by general types of accidents then transport-related incidents.

It said it was implementing an R46 million, five-year "elimination of FoG fatalities action plan" approved by the forum and council board and launched in July.

It had a three-year R20 million project to support members to adopt collision management systems to prevent transport-related incidents.

For general causes of fatalities, the council said it was stepping up efforts around employee wellness and behaviour to address the possible impact of COVID-19 on the scheduling of work, mining teams and frontline supervision.