The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) President, Joseph Mathunjwa, has called for a Safety Summit in the country following a series of fatalities that the mining industry has experienced since the beginning of the year.

There has been no month since 2018 started that was without fatalities with the latest involving the death of two workers at Harmony Gold’s Joel Mine. The latest figure of mine fatalities since January are 22, a number worryingly too high considering we have just started the second quarter.

The Union last March held nationwide protests dubbed the Socio-Economic March, where it highlighted the issue of safety in mines as companies continue prioritising profits ahead of human lives.

 

One mine company stands above the rest as far as fatalities are concerned- Sibanye-Stillwater.

Sibanye has seen several fatal accidents since the beginning of the year with the biggest scare having involved a near-death encounter of over 1,000 miners at Beatrix Mine in the Free State.

“We invest billions in safety and ensuring an enabling operating environment for our employees – most of our consumables which account for about 20% of our costs are safety related,” these are the words from Sibanye-Stillwater’s Senior Vice President Investor Relations, James Wellsted.

“Given that Sibanye-Stillwater’s operating costs were R36 billion in 2017 you can see that approximately R7 billion was on consumables related to safety. We also spend millions each year on health and safety awareness campaigns,” added Wellsted.

Unless these words and figures translate to saving lives and until South African mines reach zero harm on fatalities and stop being graveyards, James Wellsted’s words continue to ring hollow.

Ironically, he speaks for a company that lost three lives in a space of two weeks. He also speaks for a company that saw over a thousand workers trapped underground, overnight.

 

Fall of Ground incidences

Sibanye-Stillwater, like many, faces challenges such as Fall of the Ground accidents and also require more efforts to eradicating these senseless deaths.

“Deep-level mines in South Africa present unique challenges in terms of seismicity, heat and air circulation, amongst others,”-  this is according to the Association of Mine Managers South Africa.

These challenges lead to certain sicknesses that unfortunately lead to deaths or incapacitation, causing mine workers to lose their jobs, dignity and livelihoods.

“The key challenges in the industry related to employee health include tuberculosis (TB), silicosis and noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL),” added the association.

Is Sibanye doing enough to address FOGs

South African mines have seen a 35% reduction in fall of ground (FOG) fatalities from 25 in 2014 to 20 in 2015, this is according to Mine Health and Safety Council.

The challenge that remains is that lives are still being lost to FOG incidences. For many mine workers who work underground, the question remains- will the 2020 target of zero fatalities be realized.

“We obviously try to avoid fall of ground fatalities and have various safety measures in place (supports, netting, roof bolting), which are often extremely successful and have led to the significant decline in fatality rates in recent years,” said Wellsted.

“At this stage, the industry has not been successful in totally avoiding deaths underground due to FOG issues, but we continually strive for zero harm in the workplace.”

For mineworkers who continue to lose lives, statements by Wellsted on financial investment will continue to ring hollow until FOG are a thing of the past.

 

 6 April 2018 by Trust Matsilele