Industry body the Minerals Council South Africa says the industry’s safety performance in August, during which eight fatalities were recorded, making it the worst month of the year, is a red flag that it cannot ignore and demands an immediate, proactive response.
In the year to date, the total number of deaths is 36 compared with 36 in the same period in 2021, which is deeply disappointing after the industry’s safety interventions delivered an encouraging performance in the first seven months of the year. During the early months of this year, record safety achievements in fall-of-ground (FoG) and trackless mobile machinery-related fatalities were achieved, it says.
"We are fully cognisant of the heartbreak and tragedy that is visited on the families, friends and colleagues of every single person who has died. We affirm our ongoing commitment to the achievement of zero harm in the industry and that our members are proactively addressing the deterioration in safety with all the seriousness and urgency that it deserves," the council emphasises.
The Minerals Council convened a special board meeting on September 9 to urgently address an unacceptable regression in the mining industry’s safety performance in August and to implement a range of interventions to ensure safer working environments.
"The board meeting was to agree revitalised safety interventions in the sector, as it heads into the final three months of the year, which are historically the period associated with an increasing number of fatalities."
While the board members agreed on the need for increased and impactful, visible, felt leadership safety campaigns and mass meetings in the last months of the year, the board emphasises that it was equally important to address the potential impact of Covid-19, mental health and external environmental factors, which include economic pressures, crime in communities and gender-based violence, on the safety of employees in mining operations.
"The board members agreed on various actions for the prevention of fatalities in the last months of the year, including ensuring proper planning, supervisory oversight and adequate team resourcing in people, materials and equipment. The Minerals Council will also establish a multi-disciplinary team to explore alternative ways of cleaning broken ore from working areas, as part of the winches proposal."
Further, in terms of trackless mobile machinery, the aim is to ensure controls, such as proximity detection systems and/or collision prevention systems, are effective.
"While the industry has seen reductions in FoG and transport-related causes of accidents in recent years, a worrying trend has been observed regarding winch-related fatalities in the mining industry," the Minerals Council highlights.
On September 15, the Minerals Council hosted the Scraper Winches Day of Learning to share learnings, leading practices and technologies to address the challenges associated with using underground winches that are used to scrape broken ore out of working areas to haul to the surface for processing.
"One of the outcomes of the session was the endorsement of the recommendation made by the Minerals Council special board meeting on the establishment of a multi-disciplinary team to explore alternative ways of collecting the broken ore in conventional mines besides scrapers and winches," it notes.
Additionally, the actions agreed on by the board also include a recommitment to eight interventions agreed in December 2021, which include increased visible-felt leadership presence at mining operations, and stopping unauthorised and uncontrolled access to old mining areas that are not routinely mined; and to effectively and rigorously conduct risk assessments and implement controls where work in previously mined areas is routinely undertaken.
The December commitments also include quality and scheduled maintenance programmes instead of opportunistic and ad hoc maintenance arising from production pressures, and deploying competent and skilled employees in areas of high-risk work to provide adequate supervision, oversight and risk assessment of that work.
Further, the board committed to undertaking quality and scheduled critical-controls monitoring and assurances to prevent FoG, transport-related accidents and inundation of working areas, as well as ensuring that incentives and bonuses for miners do not compromise their rights to stop or refuse unsafe work.
The board also committed to implementing sufficient fatigue breaks and monitoring, and conducting phased on-boarding after the holiday period of employees to ensure they are in sound physical and mental health.
"The Minerals Council is committed to zero harm and will continue to collaborate tirelessly with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, organised labour and other stakeholders to ensure every mineworker returns from work unharmed," it emphasises.