Department of Mineral Resources statistics demonstrate that, in terms of fatalities, the coal sector was the only sector that regressed in 2017, acting deputy chief inspector of mines Thabo Ngwenya told delegates at the Coalsafe 2018 conference, in Secunda, last month.
Ngwenya noted: “In light of the poor health and safety performance last year, the Coalsafe theme of ‘our mines, our safety, our responsibility’ is appropriate . . . as the sector experienced a 100% regression, with eight fatalities recorded in 2017, compared with four fatalities in 2016.”
He said fatality rates had doubled from 0.03 to 0.06, and that it was unlikely that the sector would meet the 2018 target of 0.01, given that there had already been five fatalities recorded in the sector this year to date.
Ngwenya commented that there were 200 incidents recorded at coal mines last year, 115 of which were classified as ‘general’, that is, not pertaining to ‘machinery and transportation’ or ‘fall of ground’ or other classifiable instances. This implied a general complacency in terms of personal safety.
He said it was dismaying that a South African soldier was far safer and more likely to return home than a South African miner – even when factoring in those soldiers deployed for peacekeeping missions in conflict zones on the continent.
Ngwenya noted that there had not been any fatalities relating to coal dust explosions since 2015, and that fatalities relating to this specific hazard had been on a downward trend since the 1980s.
Vast strides had been made in terms of occupational health diseases, with the indicence of silicosis decreasing from 26 cases in 2016 to 3 in 2017, tuberculosis from 213 to 182, and hearing loss from 177 to 119.
He pointed out that the ratio of occupational health-related deaths, compared with incident-related deaths, had decreased since the 1970s. “In terms of the clinical causes of death for mineworkers, occupational disease is the biggest killer . . . it used to be that, for every one worker killed in an accident, four would have died as a result of an occupational disease. For the period 2010 to 2013, this decreased to 3:1, and in 2015/16 it was 2:1.”
Ngwenya stated that, while there had been a significant decline in mine fatalities as a whole, the industry, specifically the coal sector, should still strive for zero harm.He suggested that companies make use of the Mine Health and Safety Council’s research library to pursue the uptake of some of its research outcomes. He also noted that companies should participate in the South African Colliery Managers Association’s (SACMA’s) newest safety initiatives. In his opening address, SACMA president Wally Tollemache explained that these initiatives included a safety workshop for mining houses, where common issues could be identified and addressed, intercompany safety audits to limit the strain on the mining inspectorate, and a tripartite (comprising representatives from the Chamber of Mines labour unions and the regulator) fact-finding mission, which intends to travel to and learn from mining jurisdictions and companies that have achieved zero harm.