6 May 2018

South Africa: Mine Safety in SA Worries Solidarity After Death of 7 Workers

Photo: Sibanya-Stillwater
Sibanye-Stillwater's Driefontein mine.

Trade union Solidarity expressed "grave concern" over safety in South African mines following the recent deaths at Sibanye-Stillwater's Masakhane shaft in Driefontein.

Seven of the thirteen miners who were trapped underground on May 3, after a landslide caused by seismic activity, have been confirmed dead.

Six miners were located and brought to safety.

Advocate Paul Mardon, Solidarity's deputy general secretary for occupational health and safety, said there was particular concern about seismic activities in deep-level mines that caused ground to fall leading to mining fatalities and injuries.

In a statement released on Saturday, Mardon said that although the incident still has to be investigated in full, indications were that it could have been preceded by seismic activity and that it was followed by further seismic activity.

He said the trade union remained concerned about the increase in fatalities in mines since 2017.

Despite Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe not yet releasing official health and safety figures for mines in 2017, Mardon said provisional data indicates that 86 miners died in South African mines in 2017, compared to the 73 mining fatalities in 2016; the 77 in 2015; and the 84 in 2014.

"Preliminary figures for 2018 also look bleak with 33 fatalities recorded to date, compared to the 28 during the corresponding period last year, and the 25 during the corresponding period in 2016," he said.

According to Mardon, a decrease in the number of falls of ground has been reported, however, he pointed out that the increase in fatalities due to falls of ground is cause for concern.

"In 2016, falls of ground in South African mines totalled 459 (of which 249 occurred in gold mines), compared to the preliminary total of 437 (of which 213 occurred in gold mines) in 2017.

"According to preliminary figures for 2018, 116 falls of ground (43 of which were in gold mines) occurred to date already, compared to the 156 (79 of which took place in gold mines) during the corresponding period in 2017," said Mardon.

High-level talks

The union also expressed its concern about the lack of high-level talks between the various stakeholders in the mining industry to promote health and safety.

"The former minister of mineral resources postponed high-level talks in this regard, and no such talks have yet taken place with the new minister."

Solidarity reminded employees of their legal right to withdraw from unsafe working conditions and urged them to do so should it be necessary.

The Sibanye-Stillwater mine has been one of the main contributors to increased fatalities in the gold sector this year, which suggested that it needed to pay more attention to safety, Mantashe said in a statement on Friday.

He later described the incident to journalists on Friday evening as a "disaster".

"We are sitting here with a disaster in Driefontein," he said. He said one of the issues the department had raised with both management and the unions was that they should have pulled those workers out during the first seismic movement.

Mantashe added that it was unfortunate that the safety steward was one of the fatalities.

"He should have pulled that team out of that area after that first one."

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