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JOHANNESBURG - Fatalities  in the South African mining industry fell the most in recorded history, with the sector reporting 51 deadly accidents last year, while deaths in deep-level gold mines were more than halved.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said on Friday that fatalities in 2019 were 37percent lower, year-on-year, compared to the 81fatalities recorded in 2018.

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“This record is a result of a concerted effort by all involved. The health and safety campaigns throughout the year have demonstrated that significant improvements in results can be achieved,” Mantashe said, adding that it would continue working towards zero harm. “We must redouble our efforts, because we are dealing with people who are valuable members of their families and communities,” Mantashe said.

Gold sector fatalities fell by 53percent to 19 last year, compared to 40 in 2018. However, Mantashe said he was worried about the rise in platinum fatalities. There was a 58percent year-on-year increase in platinum sector fatalities: 19 fatalities in 2019 compared with 12 in 2018.

“The regression in the safety performance of the platinum sector is a concern. Specific attention will be paid to this area in the current year,” Mantashe said.

There was a 22percent year-on-year improvement in the coal sector, with fatalities falling to seven in 2019 from nine in 2018.

Commenting on the figures, Roger Baxter, the chief executive of the Minerals Council South Africa, said the council noted the significant reduction in multiple fatality events, which was a major concern in 2017 and 2018.

“We remain committed to continuing to work with our social partners on all matters of health and safety. We - and I speak for every mining company chief executive - remain resolute in our determination to work collaboratively to achieve our goal of Zero Harm,” Baxter said.

He said that since 1993 the industry had experienced a decline of more than 92percent in the number of fatalities, from 615 to 51 in 2019, with a year-on-year improvement of 37percent compared with 2018.

“The industry’s performance in the latter part of 2017 and the first half of 2018 was indeed a challenging period, when the industry experienced an increase in fatalities for the first time in a decade. This was unacceptable to the industry, prompting the Minerals Council Board, through the chief executive Zero Harm Forum, to initiate several measures to holistically address health and safety,” Baxter said.

Trade union Solidarity called on mines to refocus on Zero Harm.

Paul Mardon, Solidarity’s deputy general secretary for strategy and sustainability, said there was still room for improvement in numbers.

“This downward trend in fatalities and injuries is welcomed, but we call on all mines, mine management and all workers to let these improvements renew their energy, focus and dedication towards achieving Zero Harm,” said Mardon.

The industry recorded 2406 injuries last year, compared with 2447 reported in 2018. Most of these injuries were mainly the result of repeat accidents categorised as fall of ground, transportation and mining and general types of accidents.

In terms of occupational diseases in 2019, silicosis cases decreased by 28.68percent, from 652 in 2017 to 465 in 2018. Cases of pulmonary tuberculosis decreased by 23.63 percent, from 2247 in 2017 to 1716 in 2018.

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