A death spike in African mining has been reported in recent media. After fatalities dropped for several consecutive years, the death toll suddenly rocketed in 2017. Known for having some of the deepest and most dangerous mines in the world, South Africa has had a lion’s share of fatalities, and the government and other parties have instigated several initiatives to combat the devastating number of deaths over the years. In 1993, as many as 615 workers died in the mines. By 2009 this number had dropped to 167 and resulted in a record low of 73 last year. In November the death toll once again shot up to 76, which is more deaths that the total reported in 2016. This has brought major cause for concern to the industry, labour groups, and the
South African Government.
Because the trend was reversed, investors became concerned over general safety and started prompting regulators to improve on shaft inspections. The unfortunate downside to this is costly production stoppages. In a statement, a representative of the South African Chamber of Mines said that the current numbers are disappointing in light of the steady improvement the industry has experienced in the past two decades. The chamber also commented that several recent fatalities can be ascribed to changes in seismic activities.
Chris Griffith, CEO of Anglo American Platinum heads the chamber’s Zero Harm Forum. Griffith stated that this is unacceptable performance and called on the government to accelerate initiatives that could improve safety regulations. Spokesperson of the department of mineral resources, Fidel Hadebe, said that the department is committed to stepping up efforts around the issue, even to the point of closing operations should any evidence arise that there are compliance issues with safety regulations. According to Solidarity trade union’s head of health and safety, Paul Mardon, the union has concerns that the safety of workers is compromised through production pressures and concerns of job safety in the challenging economic climate. Mardon also expressed concern that the frequency of ‘fall of ground’ incidents in which tunnels, walls or roofs crumble onto workers, is increasing. This could be indicative of underlying geological issues.
Despite its unforgiving geology and the incredible danger under which miners operate, South Africa remains one of the top mining countries in the world. Major mining companies in South Africa include AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Impala Platinum and Gold Fields – all known as global industry giants. The deepest gold mine in the world is located in South Africa. Named Mponeng gold mine, it stretches 4km below the ground and is owned and operated by AngloGold Ashanti. The industry has also made major improvements to safety in recent years. Initiatives such as using nets to catch falling rocks at the slope or face where miners are blasting or drilling have been successfully implemented. Although it is concerning that the number has spiked, it is hoped that this will be resolved through similar initiatives.