The Minerals Council South Africa reports that, in an historic first, there were no fatalities related to falls of ground (FoG) – one of global mining’s most difficult challenges – in South Africa’s gold and platinum group metal (PGM) mines in the first quarter of this year.
“This impressive record is extending into the fifth month in these two sectors,” says Minerals Council safety head Dr Sizwe Phakathi.
However, he says preventing fatalities as a result of FoGs requires a lot of effort to be put into safety initiatives by companies and organised labour.
The number of FoG fatalities fell to a yearly average of 24 in the 2016 to 2020 period, from an average of 111 a year between 2001 and 2005 – a 78% improvement.
Mine safety has come under renewed scrutiny by the Minerals Council and its 78 members after two successive years of regressions in fatal events, with FoGs one of the leading causes of fatalities in South Africa’s deep-level, hard-rock mines.
However, the Minerals Council notes that the industry has developed a special focus on eliminating these incidents towards its goal of zero harm.
On March 31, the Minerals Council – in partnership with the Association of Mine Managers of South Africa, the South African Collieries Managers Association, the South African National Institute of Rock Engineering, and the Rock Engineering Technical Committee – held a FoG day of learning.
About 200 delegates attended the event for an overview of the FoG action plan (FOGAP) and to learn from their peers about leading practices and new research projects geared towards eliminating FoG fatalities.
Meanwhile, in the first quarter of the year, there was a single FoG fatality at a coal mine, which the Minerals Council says is unusual for the coal sector.
As reference, in the first quarter of 2020, six FoG-related fatalities were recorded; while the preceding two years had seven and nine, respectively.
Showing a slight improvement in total fatalities in the mining industry, this year thus far has recorded 15 deaths, down from the 18 at the same period in 2021.
The Minerals Council board renewed the industry’s focus on safety after 74 fatalities were recorded in 2021, up from 60 in 2020 and a record low 51 fatalities in 2019.
The regression in fatality statistics was “disappointing and unacceptable”, resulting in the board convening a special meeting, whereby eight interventions were agreed for members to implement immediately to first halt the regression, and then reverse the trend.
The key interventions to address FoG incidents were the implementation of entry examinations and actively making working areas safe daily from 2009.
In 2012, netting and bolting of tunnel roofs and walls were introduced, while from 2016, there were annual initiatives to address rock bursts and gravity-induced FoGs.
Technology has proved successful in significantly reducing human exposure to rock bursts, cutting rock-burst-related fatalities to four in 2021, from 48 in 2003.
However, gravity-induced rockfalls remain an area of concern and are a key focus of work for the mining industry.
The Minerals Council’s CEO Zero Harm Forum has agreed the six-pillar FOGAP in conjunction with professional mining associations which its members will implement to address these incidents.
The action plan, approved in July 2021, includes a financial investment of R46-million over five years.