South Africa is well-know for a diverse wealth of minerals and a very well regulated mining industry. The mines are places of employment for hundreds of thousands of mineworkers from all over Africa and many international experts are also employed by South African mining companies.
Facts and Data on Mining Deaths
In 2003, the mining sector agreed to bring fatalities down by 20% a year in order to reach levels comparable to those of companies in Australia, Canada and the US. The death toll from mining accidents was 270 deaths in 2003.
In 2007, the total fatality figure amounted to 221 legal mineworkers. The deaths of many illegal mineworkers however also raised concerns about the dangers of illegal mining as well as wider concerns over the mining health and safety standards for South African mining
In 2008, the total fatality figure amounted to 168 workers, and a safety audit showed mine safety compliance in South Africa was below target at just 66%.
In 2009, the total fatality figure amounted to 169 workers.
In 2010, according to figures released by the Department of Mineral Resources, 128 people were killed in mines in South Africa.
"This was our best safety year since 2003," said Bheki Sibiya, the new CEO of the Chamber of Mines, which represents 80% of all mining companies in SA. The 24% reduction is the biggest year-on-year decrease since the 2003 agreement.
Government and the Focus on Safety
The Government has taken a strong stance on Mining Safety and has expressed a commitment towards increasing safety for mineworkers.
President Jacob Zuma confirmed in an address delivered to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) that he plans to focus on enforcing safety measures to curb mining deaths which have hurt output. Government is also reviewing black ownership targets in the mining industry.
"We need to vigorously support and entrench a culture of zero harm in this industry ... the safety record of our mines has become a central issue that will be placed under the scrutiny of government," President Zuma said.
Importance of Mining Safety
The greatest impact of mining accidents can be found amongst the victims and those family members left behind. Many of these workers are the breadwinners in extended families who depend on these workers for their daily living.
The impact however also stretches much further towards the mining companies, other employees and the constant threat of mine closures and job losses!
Mining companies suffer production losses after fatalities due to routine shutdowns ordered by the government for investigations, and work stoppages by union members who vow to stop work for a day to mark the death of colleagues.
President Zuma also commented as follows: "People feel that despite progressive legislation, the mining industry and government are not doing enough to ensure that they, too, fully reap the benefits of the mining activities that are taking place.”
Partnerships in enhancing Mining Safety
The Government has emphasized that it will not compromise on Mining Safety. Significant gains have been made in improving safety over a number of years, and preventable accidents cannot be allowed to erode the hard-earned gains that have been made over time.
It is envisaged that greater cooperation could contribute to the safety efforts. Government continues to engage in constructive discussions to engage with both business and labour on how to improve on safety.
Regional inspectors are continuously working with employers and trade unions to address specific problems in their areas. Safety operations also include working together with international mining consultants and reviewing mine design and support parameters to present best practice guidelines to the department in respect of mines.