Minister Mosebenzi Zwane: Releases of 2016 mine health and safety statistics

Address by the Minister of Mineral Resources, Mr Mosebenzi Zwane (Mp) at the release of the 2016 statistics on health and safety in the mining sector

Leaders of organised business and organised labour,

Our host, the CEO of Harmony Gold, Mr Peter Steenkamp,

Members of the media present here,

Let me take this opportunity to welcome you to today’s briefing. We meet today to take stock of the sector’s performance in the critical area of health and safety. I would also like to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt condolences to families, relatives and friends of all mineworkers that have regrettably lost their lives in the mining sector.

Late last year the sector came together during the Mine Health and Safety Tripartite Summit to critically assess how the sector has performed, in line with milestones and targets set in 2014. I’m sure I speak on behalf of all stakeholders present when I declare that we all remain resolute on the goal of zero harm. The health and safety of mineworkers remains of paramount importance not only for the day-to-day operation of mining operations, but for the long-term sustainability of the sector.

As the Regulator of the sector, the implementation of the enforcement measures as contained in the law remains a key priority. We are of the firm view that it is the responsibility of each one of us to work tirelessly towards achieving the goal of zero harm. The Mine Health and Safety Act is a product of consultation and inputs from organised labour and organised business. We are therefore all bound by the provisions contained in this piece of legislation, and we should all play our part.

We have made significant gains in improving health and safety since the dawn of democracy in 1994, which has led to the sustainable downward trend of fatalities, injuries and occupational diseases over the years. Be that as it may, we believe that as the sector we should not become complacent.

We are releasing the 2016 statistics here at Doornkop Gold Mine in recognition of consistent efforts by both employers and workers of this mine in improving health and safety matters in recent years. The Doornkop operation has remained fatality-free for two successive years, a target we encourage them and other operations across the country to not only match, but exceed.

The year 2016 was a particularly challenging one for health and safety. However the lives of mineworkers cannot be reduced to just numbers and statistics. We have been attending the funerals of mineworkers across the country, and at each and every one we are starkly reminded that these are family members, often breadwinners, whose absence has a lasting impact on those they leave behind.

The tragic accident which occurred at Lily Mine outside Barberton in Mpumalanga on the 5th of February 2016 continues to occupy the hearts and minds of all South Africans. The two subsequent major falls of ground that occurred a week after the initial accident caused further deterioration of ground conditions and contributed to the complexity of the rescue operations. The investigation into the underlying causes of this accident commenced last year and has now been converted into a formal inquiry in terms of the legal provisions.

The Department has initiated discussions with the National Prosecuting Authority to strengthen the ability to prosecute those who are negligent in their responsibilities, in as far as fatalities, injuries and occupational diseases in the sector are concerned.

I would like to appeal to all the employers and mine management to ensure that the health and safety of their workers, is always prioritised. We should not place more value on profits over the lives of workers.

As the Department entrusted with the responsibility to enforce the legal provisions on health and safety, our standpoint is clear – if you cannot mine safely, then don’t mine at all. Find people who can mine safely, and can extract the mineral wealth of our country without killing, maiming or causing any occupational ill health and diseases.

Specific highlights for 2016

Fatalities

A total of 73 fatalities were reported in 2016 compared to 77 during the previous year. This translates to an improvement of 5% year on year. The breakdown of the fatalities per commodity during the year 2016 is as follows: gold (30), platinum (27), coal (4) and other mines (12). In the category of other mines these include diamonds, chrome, copper and iron ore.

The 2016 statistics suggest that the major gold and platinum mines remain the main contributors to accidents and the subsequent loss of lives. This is regrettable, as we believe that these mines should be at the forefront in terms of the development of appropriate systems and expertise to enhance health and safety.

Fatalities reported by the gold, coal and ‘other mines’ sectors during 2016 showed a decrease of 9%, 20% and 33% from 2015 respectively. Regrettably, the platinum sector reported an increase in the number of fatalities by 29% from 21 in 2015 to 27 in 2016 and plans are in place to proactively contain this trend.

Historically, the last few months of the year have been characterised by a rise in accidents and fatalities, as the year winds down. Increased vigilance and active campaigning to raise awareness during the last quarter of the year resulted in a 57% reduction in fatalities from twenty one (21) during 2015 to nine (9) during 2016.

Despite the improvement in the number of fatalities reported in 2016, I want to convey my serious concern that we continue to experience loss of life in the mining sector. Already, there are four fatalities that have been reported since the beginning of this year, with the most recent occurring yesterday.

Improvement in the number of worker injuries

There has been a welcome decrease of 15% in the number of injuries, from 3 138 in 2015 to 2 662 in 2016. Most of these injuries are mainly as a result of repeat accidents. We fully trust that the tripartite collaboration will focus on this as well and continue to achieve positive results.

Occupational Health

Although in recent years we have made modest strides on safety, it is unacceptable that the mining sector is still reporting a high number of occupational diseases – more specifically TB, silicosis and noise-induced hearing loss.

However, it is encouraging that the occupational diseases reported bythegold, other and coal sectors reduced by 15%, 8% and 4% respectively.

Occupational health matters will continue to receive our outmost attention. In this regard, work on the integration of compensation systems is underway to address the inequalities that had been identified of occupational health programmes being executed unsystematically and inconsistently. This work is critical in the restoration of dignity to our mineworkers.

The recent court cases where mineworkers were granted permission to launch a silicosis class action suit against mining companies clearly indicates that there is a great need to do more in the prevention of occupational diseases at mines.

Health And Safety Improvement Measures

As I have indicated before, we cannot afford to relax as a result of the consistent improvements we have realised over the years. Our Summit resolutions guide where would like the sector to be by 2024. On fatalities, the objective remains zero harm.

Furthermore, a number of initiatives have been embarked upon to enhance health and safety. These include the following:

Stakeholder Collaboration

The Department will continue engaging and collaborating with its social partners to ensure that the health and safety of the workers in the sector is prioritised.

Monitoring compliance and enforcing legal provisions

In order to monitor and enforce compliance to health and safety measures at mines, group audits and inspections are conducted to ensure compliance with the legal provisions. 6

The group audits mainly focus on the effectiveness of control measures that have been put in place to prevent rock falls, rock bursts and transport equipment accidents.

The audits evaluate mine management systems for preventing exposure of employees to noise and dust (including silica dust) which could result in workers suffering from noise induced hearing loss and silicosis.

As part of the audits, mines’ TB, HIV and AIDS programmes are being evaluated to ensure that there is an improvement. Mine inspectors are also checking whether the mines are complying with the Mining Charter commitments for improving living conditions of employees and conversion of single sex hostels, as it has been determined through research that poor living conditions also exacerbate Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other health and safety challenges.

Capacity to Monitor Compliance

The department is working together with the Mining Qualification Authority (MQA) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (GHET) in placing bursars, interns and students at various universities and companies so that they can form part of the professionals in training for future engineers, environmental scientists, as well as surveyors.

In conclusion, the department will continue to work together with our social partners to ensure that there is a significant and sustained improvement in the health and safety of mineworkers. We will continue to implement provisions in the law and take all the necessary steps to ensure compliance. Let us all play our part to realise our overarching goal of ensuring that every mineworker returns home unharmed, every single day.

I thank you.

Source: Government of South Africa