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Mine safety in SA has undergone a vast and sustained improvement over the past two decades. But a high number of deaths in the first half of this year has compelled the industry to ask if this is a blip on the chart, or the beginning of a deteriorating trend spurred on by a high frequency of earth tremors, operational laxity, or just plain greed. Mine deaths dropped from 270 in 2003 to 73 in 2016, according to the department of mineral resources (DMR). The improvement has been steady, except for 2009, the only year in which the number increased. Though fewer people are employed in mining today, the fatality frequency rate too — the number of deaths compared with the millions of hours worked — has improved vastly. It dropped from 0.27 in 2003 to 0.09 in 2016. In the gold mining sector, which is responsible for the majority of incidents, the frequency rate dropped from 0.38 to 0.14 over this period. Last year, the death toll jumped for the first time since 2009, with 88 deaths recorde...

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