Department of Mineral Resources chief inspector of mines David Msiza Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Department of Mineral Resources chief inspector of mines David Msiza Picture: BUSINESS DAY

Deaths on South African mines fell to 81 in 2018 after an uptick the previous year, the department of mineral resources said on Friday.

The lowest number of fatalities was the 73 deaths recorded in 2016 before the spike to 90 the following year, mainly in the gold industry, said David Msiza, the chief inspector of mines.

“We are hopeful that this is the beginning of a much-needed turnaround in fatalities, and that mines will continue to prioritise this issue moving forward,” he said.

So far in 2019, five people have died on the country’s mines, which are among the world’s deepest, compared to 14 at the same time in 2018.

“The sector has set itself the goal of zero-harm by 2020. This implies that by 2020 there should be no fatalities in the sector. This requires a significant step up of our efforts,” Msiza said.

“It is in all our interests to ensure a significant and sustained improvement in the health and safety of mine workers.”

The Minerals Council SA noted that since 1994 to the 2016 low, there had been an 86% drop in deaths on mines. The council stepped up work to address safety after the deterioration in the safety performance in 2017, contributing to the improvement seen the next year.

“This improvement would not have been possible if all tripartite partners, including government and labour had not worked together in partnership to address the safety challenges we are faced with as an industry,” said council vice-president Andile Sangqu.

“But, this improvement is no grounds for complacency. Efforts to improve further will continue, as they will even when the goal of zero fatalities is reached.”

During 2018, SA’s gold mines were the most dangerous place to work, with 40 deaths during 2018, and 21 of those at Sibanye-Stillwater in the first half of the year.

Seven people died in a seismic event at Sibanye’s Driefontein mine, while five miners were killed in a single event at the company’s Kloof mine.

The platinum mines accounted for 12 deaths, with coal mines claiming nine lives and other minerals the balance, with six people dying in a fire and explosion at the Palabora copper mine.

“The platinum sector showed a commendable decrease of 59% in the number of fatalities, from 29 in 2017,” Msiza said.

There was a “welcome” fall of 12% in mining injuries to 2,350 during 2018.