This article was written by Tladi Marumo , an Associate at Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa

The new Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, in his official opening address at the Annual Investing in African Mining Indaba, on 8 February 2016, ranked health and safety as one of the paramount industry priorities of 2016. This statement follows on the earlier emphasis placed on enhancing health and safety practices in the mining industry by his predecessor, Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi. Shortly before the Mining Indaba, Minister Zwane published the annual mining health and safety statistics for 2015. He highlighted 2015 as the year with the lowest number of mining-related fatalities, having dropped from 84 fatalities in 2014 to 77 in 2015. This is an 8% improvement rate.

Reduction of fatalities

Gold mines contributed the most to industry fatalities compared to other commodities, despite a drop in gold mine fatality numbers. Gold mines reported 33 fatalities in 2015 compared to a total 44 fatalities in 2014, an improvement of 25%. Platinum mines reported 22 fatalities in 2015 versus a total of 16 fatalities in 2014, a regression of 38%. Coal mines reported 5 fatalities in 2015 versus a total of 9 fatalities in 2014. All other mines (includes diamonds, chrome, copper and iron ore, and all other mines) reported 17 fatalities in 2015 versus a total of 15 fatalities in 2014, a regression of 13%.

The major contributors to fatalities in 2014 were: “general classification types of fatalities” (which include inhaling dangerous fumes, being struck by an object or falling from height) (35%), falls of ground (30%) and transportation fatalities (17%). There has been a 31% reduction in the number of general classification fatalities from 29 fatalities in 2014 to 20 fatalities in 2015. Fall of ground fatalities reduced by 12% from 25 in 2014 to 22 fatalities in 2015.

The Minister attributed this improvement in great part to the improved health and safety systems of the following mining companies who have operated for more than 12 months without fatalities: De Beers, Exxaro, Sasol, Northam Platinum, Pilanesberg Platinum, African Rainbow Minerals, South 32, Aquarius Platinum South Africa, Total Coal South Africa, Kuyasa Mining, Coal of Africa, Eskom Ingula Pumped Storage, Foskor, Rio Tinto Richards Bay Minerals, Lafarge, AfriSam, Petra Diamonds and Trans Hex Mining.

Injuries reported

A total of 3 116 mining-related injuries were reported in 2015 compared to 2700 in 2014. This translates to a regression of 15% year on year. The breakdown of the injuries per commodity year on year is as follows: gold mines reported 1228 injuries in 2015 versus a total of 1243 injuries in 2014, an improvement of 1%. Platinum mines reported 1331 injuries in 2015 versus a total of 796 injuries in 2014, a regression of 67%. Coal mines reported 207 injuries in 2015 versus a total of 267 injuries in 2014, an improvement of 22%. Other mines reported 350 injuries in 2015 versus a total of 394 injuries in 2014, an improvement of 11%.

Comparative analysis

These statistics show that currently the South African mining sector’s fatality rates compare favourably to other best performing countries such as the United States of America (U.S), Australia and Canada. South Africa’s overall fatality rates improved by 72% to 0.09 in 2013 from 0.32 in 2003. The U.S, Australia and Canada recorded a combined improvement rate of 29% at 0.05 in 2013 from 0.07 in 2003. Of the most recent available statistics, the US recorded its lowest mining fatality rates from 48 in 2014 to 28 in 2015, and Australia recorded a drop from 16 fatalities in 2014 to 13 in 2015.

Improved statutory reporting on Occupational Health matters

The Minister noted an improvement in statutory reporting, with mines timeously submitting their occupational hygiene statutory returns and Annual Medical Reports. The overall number of occupational hygiene reports submitted for the reporting period 2014/15 increased as follows: airborne pollutants (17%), noise (15%) and thermal stress (26%). The number of AMRs submitted also increased by 10%. Furthermore, the statutory reporting on HIV and TB increased significantly by 49% between 2013/14 and 2014/15 reporting periods.

Reduction of occupational diseases

There was a 3% improvement in the number of occupational diseases reported, from 6810 in 2013 to 6577 in 2014. The rate of silicosis and silico-tuberculosis cases decreased by 24% and 27% respectively, pulmonary tuberculosis cases increased by 9%, noise induced hearing loss increased by 5%, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis cases decreased by 23%, asbestosis increased by 50% whilst other diseases (including HIV/AIDS-related diseases, psychiatric conditions, cardiovascular diseases and orthopaedic problems) decreased by 6%.

Greater improvement measures are to be implemented in the industry.

Health and safety improvement measures

The Department of Mineral Resources is embarking on measures to further enhance health and safety. These measures include: promoting stakeholder collaboration; implementation of the 2014 Mine Health and Safety Tripartite Summit Commitments; prioritization of health and safety for women in mining; monitoring compliance and enforcing legal provisions; enhancing skills development; and enhancing the capacity to monitor compliance. The Minister has stated that an industry stakeholder Mine Health and Safety summit will be held in November this year to review the status of commitments to health and safety practices.

With regard to legislative developments, it must be noted that on 5 February 2016, the DMR gazetted four new guidelines to assist mining companies to develop mandatory codes of practice for: determining an employee’s fitness to perform work, managing incapacity resulting from ill-health or injury; respecting an employee’s right to refuse dangerous work and leave a dangerous workplace; and managing thermal stress. A failure to compile and implement a code of practice which complies with these guidelines constitutes a breach of the Mine Health and Safety Act. Mining companies must therefore take greater efforts to ensure compliance with these requirements.

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