Trade union Solidarity today expressed its grave concern about safety in South African mines in the wake of the recent accident at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Masakhane shaft at Driefontein in Gauteng.
According to adv. Paul Mardon, Solidarity’s deputy general secretary for occupational health and safety, there is particular concern about seismic activities in deep-level mines that cause falls of ground leading to mining fatalities and injuries.
This comes after 13 miners were trapped underground on 3 May after a landslide caused by seismic activity. Adv. Mardon says that although the incident still has to be investigated in full indications are that it could have been preceded by seismic activity and that it was followed by further seismic activity. “Despite major personal danger, the search and rescue team managed to locate six miners and brought them to safety. Sadly, seven miners have lost their lives though,” adv. Mardon said.
Adv. Mardon also said that despite the many steps that have been taken to ensure mine safety and a constant decline in mining fatalities and mine injuries has been achieved up to 2016 the trade union remains concerned about the increase in fatalities in mines since 2017. “Mineral Resources Minister, Gwede Mantashe, has not yet announced the official health and safety figures for mines in 2017, but according to provisional indications, 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,” Mardon added.
According to adv. Mardon, a decrease in the number of falls of ground has been reported. He, however, pointed out that the increase in fatalities due to falls of ground is cause for concern. “It shows that the severity of falls of ground is on the increase. 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,” adv. Mardon said.
Solidarity 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,” adv. Mardon said.
Solidarity reminds employees of their legal right to withdraw from unsafe working conditions, and urges them to do so should it be necessary. Employers are also urged to respect the exercising of this right. Solidarity once again calls on employers to make concerted and renewed attempts to prevent mining fatalities and calls on all players at all levels in mining to accept full responsibility for themselves and for each other in a mature spirit of collaboration and interdependence.