By Onalenna Mhlongo
Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe has committed to remain the driving force behind efforts to improve safety at mines.
“We will continue to engage with the executive management [of mines] to devise strategies to reduce fatalities, injuries and occupational diseases,” the Minister said at the release of the 2019 mine health and safety statistics.
The sector recorded 51 fatalities in 2019 -- the lowest ever recorded in the South African mining industry.
“This is a result of concerted effort by all involved. The health and safety campaigns throughout the year have demonstrated that significant improvements in results can be achieved,” Mantashe said on Friday.
The Minister stressed, however, that more still remains to be done to ensure that valuable mine workers are safe in their work environment.
“The Department [of Mineral Resources] and the Mine Health and Safety Council will host a Mine Health and Safety Summit later this year, where we will report on the implementation of milestones to improve occupational health and safety performance in the industry,” Mantashe said.
To address seismic and gravity-induced fall-of-ground accidents, the department works closely with the established FOG Task Team, which comprises the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC), the Council for Geoscience, Minerals Council South Africa, National Union of Mineworkers, Association of Mine workers and Construction Union, Solidarity, UASA and the South African Institute of Rock Engineers.
Mantashe urged mine houses to ensure they have a backup power supply in the event of power interruptions, which could result in significant risk to workers.
Monitoring and enforcing compliance with the law
In pursuit of the department’s goal of zero harm, Mantashe said the implementation of the Mine Health and Safety Act remains a priority.
“We cannot afford to become complacent because of improvements we have made thus far.”
In 2019, the department issued two directives to improve safety in the sector. The first was to eliminate accidents related to shafts and winders. The second was for emergency preparedness.
“On 28 February 2019, a total of 944 mine workers were trapped underground. Fortunately, miners were rescued from a second outlet in the neighbouring shaft,” Mantashe said.
He urged employers and mineworkers to fully comply with these directives to avoid potential disaster and to sustain the improvements being made by the department.
The Minister said if safety directives are strictly adhered to, fire, heat and oxygen deficiencies ought to be eliminated to minimise related accidents.
“This applies when people gain access to abandoned or old mined-out areas underground,” Mantashe said.
The Minister said the department continues to monitor compliance with the directive to eliminate rock-burst and rock-fall related accidents, specifically when pillar extraction or removals are performed at a mine. - SAnews.gov.za