Striving for zero harm at mines

Friday, October 19, 2018

The 2018 Occupational Health and Safety Summit ended on Friday with a recommitment to zero harm in the mining industry.

Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe told SAnews that his department continues to call for further cooperation from all stakeholders to address challenges in the mining sector. 

"Health and safety in the mining industry must be a reality.  Yesterday, we had reported 69 fatalities [for the year] and today it is 71. This is a big concern to us. It is a disaster for the industry," he said referring to the latest incidents where two miners died in separate incidents at Dishaba Mine in Limpopo and Kopanang Mine on the West Rand.

"This is why health and safety must be integrated with competitiveness, sustainability and transformation. I appeal to everybody to take this seriously.

"We need to ensure that mining contributes positively to the economy of the country and that we generate wealth for the country,” said Mantashe at the end of the two-day summit.

The summit, which is co-hosted by Health and Safety Council (MHSC) and the Mineral Resources Department, brought together 700 stakeholders from government, business and organised labour to collectively assess progress and find solutions that will assist the industry in improving the status quo.

The Minister said the summit was an important event for him, which unpacked health and safety at a new level.

However, he said there was little communication in the environment about issues affecting the industry.

"We unpack among ourselves but people don't know what is being done. We must constantly and directly communicate with the people.

“In addition to this, the industry must coexist with environmental demands of society and it is the industry that has a responsibility to extend its hand."

Technical proposals to make mining safer

On Friday, the summit heard progress reports from the breakaway groups.

The falls of ground and rock bursts group, led by Professor Francois Malan from the University of Pretoria, reported that there was no technology available or scientific understanding for predicting seismicity.

Malan said they also found that geologists and rock engineers are occasionally misaligned, while there is little research on pillar mining that monitors the older shafts survival. 

There were also concerns raised on the training and skills development for the miners.

Malan told SAnews that the group proposed there should be additional training for miners, and an independent technical service investigative team to respond to falls of ground incidents.

"There should be a development of an individual, integrated hazard rating system for gold mine panels, of which seismicity hazard is only one component, and there should be a common group in terms of the recommendation given by the rock engineer and instructions from the manager."

On HIV and TB within the sector, the working group reported that the industry is making inroads in their 2014 commitments, which aim to ensure that by December 2024, the TB incidence rate should be below the national rate and 100% of employees are offered counselling and testing, and are linked to a treatment programme.

The data presented showed that the TB incidence rate in the mining sector dropped from 849 per 100 000 employees to about 567 in 2018. There was also an increase in employees counselled from 54.2% in 2013 to 69.5% in 2018, according to the Minerals Council head of health, Thuthula Balfour.

Balfour said the improvements will continue, despite challenges identified such as lack of professionalism in clinic staff, and certain working groups, such as white-collar workers, not being targeted and insufficient education of miners.

Women in mining

Challenges facing women in mining also come under the spotlight. These included safety, specifically the risk of sexual harassment and sexual violence, directed at them by their male colleagues. They also indicated challenges with the fact that equipment, such as overalls, personal protective equipment (PPE), boots or tools, is designed and manufactured with men in mind.

“Ensuring that PPE and work clothing fits properly, and is fit for purpose, is key to allowing female employees to be fully and safely active in their jobs,” said Women in Mining's Lerato Tsele.

She said the best way to ensure women’s safety at work is to change the mindset of their male colleagues.

On the positive side, the summit heard that the number of women working in the mining sector has increased significantly in the past 15 years – from around 11 400 in 2002 to about 53 000 women in 2015, and to 53 179 in 2017.

Women represent 12% of the mining labour force of 464 667.

The summit found transformation to be painfully slow in mining with lack of transparency, victimisation and discrimination high.

To address this, it was recommended that mining companies and leaders need to commit to transformation action, the reskilling of miners, attracting women to the sector as well as the empowerment of companies to be transparent with health and safety matters. –