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Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane announced with much fanfare last week that mine deaths declined for a ninth year in a row to a record low in 2016, thanks to the government’s efforts to improve mine safety. Zwane said there were 73 deaths on the mines in 2016, down from 77 in 2015. His figures excluded the three Lily Mine workers whose bodies remain trapped underground. But a closer analysis of the data show that while the absolute number of deaths has fallen the fatality rate per hours worked has stagnated in recent years. The fatality rate was 0.8 per million hours worked in both 2014 and in 2015, according to data from the Chamber of Mines. This is the key indicator of mine safety because it strips out the effects of employees who are on leave, according to its head of safety and sustainable development, Sizwe Phakathi. It also strips out the effects of strikes and takes into account the size of the sector, which has shed more than 60,000 jobs since 2012, according to t...

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