While South Africa’s mining industry has recorded its first-ever January without fatalities, the number of deaths in mines increased in 2023 to more than 50, compared to the previous year.
According to Dushendra Naidoo, the Minerals Council South Africa’s Head of Safety and sustainable development, provisional statistics showed an increase last year compared to 49 incidents in 2022.
The 2022 to 2023 health and safety statistics are expected to be released by Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe.
Naidoo attributed the spike to last year’s Impala Platinum mine disaster, when 13 employees were killed underground.
Another 75 miners were injured at the shaft in Rustenburg.
The council briefed the media at the 2024 Mining Indaba at the CTICC on Tuesday.
“We had a high number of 74 deaths in 2021 and saw some changes in 2022. This could be attributed to safety interventions that the council promoted,” Naidoo said.
“However in 2023 there was an increase of 55 due to an accident at one of the mines. Our drive is to actually see zero fatalities and harm, hence more safety initiatives being adopted and implemented,” he said.
Fatalities were attributed to safety issues such as fall-of-ground and trackless mobile machinery.
The council also noted that the mining industry recorded its first fatality-free January in 2024 – a full calendar month without a death.
The industry has averaged nearly five deaths a year in the month of January since 2018.
The council's head of health, Dr Thuthula Balfour said that in 2021, 1 924 occupational diseases were recorded, a decrease compared to the previous year.
“In 2022, however, there was an increase and most of these cases were attributed to Covid-19, while there is not much talk now about the pandemic or what it did in the mining industry. It actually had an impact on the mining health statistics and there was an abnormal decline in reporting. We note the decreases in silicosis cases and tuberculosis (TB).
“Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) cases have surpassed TB, which historically always had higher cases. The decline of hearing loss is still not looking great and this is among our key focuses.
This means mine sound block muffs are not being used efficiently. Upgrades in machines, technology and equipment are needed to reduce the noise,” she said.
Balfour also served on the ministerial advisory council for Covid-19.
Japie Fullard, the chair of the Minerals Council’s CEO Zero Harm Forum hailed the zero-incident month saying it was a sign of a continuation of safety improvements in the sector.
Fullard said normally January was a difficult month for safety as mines restarted after the year-end break.
“This is the first time in South Africa’s mining history that this occurred. Although a lot of effort went into our start-up campaigns, there’s a lot that still has to be done.
“To ensure the trajectory for safety remains on a downward trend, the Minerals Council Board has started monthly meetings to share learnings in successes and failures, maintaining a high degree of company leadership focused on safety initiatives, developed internally and with the Minerals Council,” he said.
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) deputy general-secretary, Mpho Phakedi said mining companies needed to be more proactive and to take preventative measures to ensure there were no deaths, injuries and/or diseases.
“Deaths and injuries remain our concern and we are saddened that fatalities increase. We will continue to have engagements with the employers to ensure all health and safety challenges are tackled.
“Workers are suffering from diseases that we think should not have been the case if more preventative measures had been taken by the employers. This includes protective equipment that is utilised and upgraded. The union also notes the improvement in TB. Noise-induced hearing loss cases that remains a concern,” said Phakedi.