The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on May 10 commemorated the 27-year anniversary of the Vaal Reef Disaster that resulted in 104 fatalities.
As one of the deadliest events in the history of South African mining, the Vaal Reefs mine accident in 1995 marked a turning point for the mining industry and resulted in the establishment of the Leon Commission of Inquiry into the mining industry.
The Vaal Reefs is a gold-bearing reef that was mined near Orkney, in North West. An underground train careered into the cables of a two-floor shaft elevator cage that was transporting workers up to surface after their shift.
The train entered a tunnel that was supposed to be closed, before losing control and causing a collision that sent the cage plunging downwards in a free fall. The accident was reportedly a result of human error and there had been no safety precaution in place to prevent the train from entering the shaft.
The commission ultimately recommended a number of reforms within the sector, which included the drafting of the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA), known as MHSA 29 of 1996, to provide a comprehensive legal framework for creating a healthy and safe working environment.
This led to workers’ right to refuse dangerous work and to withdraw from dangerous working areas, as well as the right to information. A number of systems and agencies of enforcement in the industry were restructured as a result of the commission.
Beside the efforts made by the Mine Health and Safety Council, which was established shortly after the Act for implementation purposes, to reduce occupational injuries, illnesses and death in the mining industry, these incidents still occur, albeit to a lesser extent.
The NUM believes the industry should continue to strive for zero harm and ensure every worker returns home safe.