Organisation for safe, fair and sustainable mining and metals the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) reports that South African member companies accounted for 51% of the 43 fatalities recorded by ICMM member companies globally in 2021, at 27 fatalities.
The US followed with four fatalities, while the Democratic Republic of Congo suffered three fatalities in 2021.
This compares with the 44 fatalities recorded at ICMM member companies’ operations in 2020, 287 in 2019 (the highest on record – as a result of the Brumadinho tailings dam collapse) and 50 in 2018.
However, in terms of fatality frequency rates, the ICMM’s data shows that Côte d'Ivoire ranked highest at 0.163, which is a result of the relatively low number of hours worked in the country (6.13-million hours), while Bolivia ranked second at 0.123 incidents per 8.13-million hours worked.
South Africa ranked fifth, with a fatality frequency rate of about 0.060.
African ICMM members’ mineworkers worked a total of 648.6-million hours in 2021 and suffered 27 fatalities – 63%, resulting in a fatality frequency rate of 0.042; while South American miners worked a total of 1.01-billion hours (40% of hours globally) with six fatalities, resulting in a fatality frequency rate of 0.006.
Of the total fatalities in 2021, 12 were related to mobile equipment and transportation, while eight were caused by fall-of-ground (FoG) incidents, six of which occurred in South Africa.
Injury from FoG incidents is the most common occupational injury in the South African mining industry owing to the prevalence of deep, high-stress mines in the country where the deepest mines extend to 3 500 m below surface.
To address FoG incidents, Minerals Council South Africa has focused its efforts on such events, thereby resulting in a reduction of these fatalities, the ICMM says.
Meanwhile, the ICMM reports that vehicle-related hazards are also common across the industry since this type of incident is not dependent on geography, or the commodity being produced.
To address this, the ICMM has adopted its collaborative Innovation for Cleaner Safer Vehicles initiative, whereby members work in partnership with original equipment manufacturers to identify and promote solutions including collision avoidance technology, process improvements and training capable of eliminating fatalities from vehicle interactions.
In 2021, three fatal incidents resulted in more than one fatality, which is equal to the number of multiple fatality incidents in 2020.
Further, 27 fatalities occurred in underground mines, five in openpit operations and the remaining 11 were the result of other factors, such as working at height, energy isolation, falling objects and machinery.
However, 11 member companies – Alcoa, BHP, Boliden, Hydro, JX Nippon Mining & Metals, Minera San Cristobal, Minsur, MMG, Newcrest, Newmont and Rio Tinto – recorded zero fatalities.
As for injuries, the ICCM reports that there was a 5% increase in the number of total recordable injuries from 6 997 in 2020, to 7 355 in 2021. Owing to more hours being worked, there was a reduction in the overall injury rate from 2.94 in 2020, to 2.90 in 2021.
However, this reduction is marginal, and the ICMM points out that injury rates appear to be plateauing.
ICMM president and CEO Rohitesh Dhawan says the health and safety of workers is of paramount importance to ICMM members, and therefore any year with even a single fatality, is unacceptable.
“ICMM’s new three-year strategy is focused on ambitious collective action. Sharing lessons from failure is vital to improving safety, but it is not enough to achieve our goal of zero harm.
“As an industry, we can draw strength from how far we have come to drive down fatalities and injuries, but we will remain deeply uncomfortable until zero harm is actually achieved,” he says.
Dhawan adds that the ICMM will work together to explore the root causes of why harm continues to occur and hunt for the next step change to make zero harm a reality.