Hit by a high fatality rate attributed to poor safety performance, the South African mining industry has recommitted itself to a shared goal of zero harm – to ensure that employees “return home from work unharmed”.
To address the 58 deaths of mine workers this year alone, the Minerals Council South Africa (MCSA) this weekend launched the “Safety and Health First, Always and Everyday” campaign – to be rolled out in every South African mining operation, with mining chief executives, labour and government representatives pledging to work collectively to improve safety.
In an effort at ending the safety regression, described as “unacceptable”, the 66-member MCSA has undertaken to host “safety and health days” in every mining operation.
MCSA CEO Roger Baxter said: “The ultimate goal of this initiative is to remind each and every company, manager and employee that the safety and health of employees is the uppermost priority for this industry.
“Ensuring the safety and health of all mining employees requires active collaboration between management, employees and regulators,” said Baxter.
Added Baxter: “The Minerals Council and its members acknowledge our responsibility to do all we can, to achieve our shared goal of zero harm. We ask all industry stakeholders to share in our commitment to Safety and Health, First, Always and Everyday.”
Department of mineral resources chief inspector David Msiza expressed concern that there was a recurrence of loss of life in South African mines “due to a repeat of the same incidents”. “We cannot continue talking about it. We have to ensure that it becomes reality,” he said.
“The department sometimes receives complaints from employees who claim to be victimised if they withdraw from working in an unsafe area. The Mine Health and Safety Act is clear on this. It puts responsibility on the employer,” said Msiza.
The department, said Msiza, has undertaken to move forward the government’s planned health and safety summit from November to next month.
Chris Griffith, chairperson of Zero Harm Forum, said despite making significant progress in safety over the last two decades, the mining sector was “still falling short of our milestones” and it knows it is not “where it wants to be”.
The industry saw an 88% improvement in fatality rates between 1993 and 2016. MCSA vice-president Andile Sangqu said the council wanted to make it “unequivocally clear” that it endorsed workers’ right to withdraw from working in unsafe areas.