Council continues to drive Zero Harm progress

27th October 2023

Council continues to drive Zero Harm progress

NOLITHA FAKUDE These milestones are confirmation that the industry’s aspiration of zero fatalities is realistic and achievable

During the sixth National Day of Health and Safety in Mining, held in August, industry organisation Minerals Council South Africa emphasised the critical need for safe and healthy working environments in the mining industry.

With “resolute” determination to advance this cause, the Minerals Council facilitated collaborative discussions among stakeholders, where the shared objective was to reinforce existing interventions and initiatives geared toward achieving the universally acknowledged goal of zero harm.

This objective is rooted in the fundamental principle that every single one of the 470 000 South African mineworkers deserve to return home safely and in good health after each day’s work.

Held under the theme of Always: Vigilance, Learning and Improving, this year’s National Day of Health and Safety served to remind the industry to “always remain vigilant in protecting the lives and well-being of every one of us at work in our industry,” according to Minerals Council South Africa president Nolitha Fakude.

She added that the event also reminds stakeholders that success is only possible when the industry eliminates fatalities by continuously learning through research and development, as well as from each other, to ensure implementation of best practices.

“The safety performance in January 2023 gave us hope because, for the first time ever, we had a fatality-free first month of the year. These milestones are confirmation that our aspiration of zero fatalities is realistic and achievable. We will be disappointed if 2023 does not see a further reduction in fatalities compared to last year,” said Fakude.

The Minerals Council's proactive stance was evident through its strategic collaborations with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s (DMRE’s) Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate and organised labor.

Through these partnerships, the council said it has worked “tirelessly” to ensure stringent safety standards and health protocols within mining operations.

By fostering inclusive dialogue and mobilising collective efforts, the Minerals Council South Africa plays a pivotal role in driving the agenda for safer workplaces in the mining sector, it added.

The event was addressed by the DMRE’s chief inspector of mines David Msiza, as well as trade unions Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union representative Gabriel Nkosi, National Union of Mineworkers representative Duncan Luvuno, Solidarity representative Hanlie van Vuuren and United Association of South Africa representative Chris Smith.

In the occupational health sphere, there are continuing reductions in the incidences of most occupational diseases, but there are still areas that need more focus to ensure a downward trajectory.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020 and 2021, mining companies focused on screening and treatment of the novel virus, which resulted in a knock-on reduction in the screening and monitoring of occupational diseases.

However, since 2022, as the work environment normalised and health interventions of mines returned to pre-Covid levels, there has been a renewed focus on higher levels of screening and monitoring, which will result in an apparent increase in incidences compared to the Covid-19 period, reveals the Minerals Council.

Meanwhile, and of concern, the Minerals Council notes that the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss is rising, requiring special attention from mining companies. In 2022, there were 776 cases compared to 738 the year before.

The mining industry’s tuberculosis incidence continues to trend lower and remains well below the national rate of infection, a target the industry set for itself and has achieved since 2017.

In 2022, there were 278 cases per 100 000 employees compared to 537 per 100 000 in South Africa’s general population. In 2020 and 2021, when there was reduced screening, there were between 220 and 224 incidents per 100 000 in the mining industry.

Referring to the Minerals Council’s Khumbul’ekhaya CEO-led strategy on health and safety campaign, launched in 2019, Fakude noted that the council “wanted everyone to think of the human impact of every health and safety decision we make”.

She added that it “challenges us to prevent fatalities and injuries by integrating health and safety into every aspect of our work”.

The campaign, as well as focused interventions and initiatives by the Minerals Council and its more than 70 member companies and organisations, has resulted in significant step changes in health and safety as the industry strives to achieve zero harm.

In 2022, the industry reported its lowest number of fatalities, with 49 people losing their lives compared to 74 fatalities the year before.

By August 17 this year – the date of the National Day of Health & Safety – 27 mineworkers had lost their lives, compared with 26 in the same period of 2022, while 1 225 employees were injured, compared with 1 273 at the same time in 2022 – representing a 4% improvement.

In the year to date, two women have succumbed to their injuries and 133 have been injured.

This compares to three fatalities and 217 injuries for the full year of 2022. The previous year, one woman died and 166 were injured at work on mining sites.

Meanwhile, the Minerals Council reports that the mining industry has embarked on a modernisation process to make mining safer, more productive and accessible to everyone wishing to pursue a career in the sector.

“By being vigilant and keeping an unrelenting focus on safety, we can make a difference. But it’s through learning from each other, from our peers overseas, and by continually improving on safety interventions and initiatives, we will achieve our goal of zero harm in a sustainable way,” Minerals Council Zero Harm Forum chairperson Japie Fullard commented.