More than R250m dedicated to deep-level mine research

Mponeng gold mine is the deepest mine in the world. Image: AngloGold Ashanti

Mponeng gold mine is the deepest mine in the world. Image: AngloGold Ashanti

The Minerals Council of South Africa has pumped millions into seismicity research associated with deep-level mines, in an effort to drastically reduce fatalities.

The mining industry is spending more than R250 million through the Mine Health and Safety Council on research into seismicity associated with deep-level mines, according to Minerals Council South Africa (MCSA) CEO Roger Baxter.

Baxter claims there have been fewer fatalities attributed to fall of ground incidents due to “various improvements in mine designs and underground support methods”.

Interventions by mining companies, the department of mineral resources and organised labour have led to the number of fatalities associated with seismicity falling from 48 in 2003 to 12 in 2017.

“The most serious accidents of 2018, in which we have experienced multiple fatality incidents, have been different in nature.

“These range from falls of ground following a seismic event to employees entering areas that should have been off-limits, to an underground fire,” says Baxter.

On international health and safety benchmarks, Baxter says the South African mining sector is committed to “a global search for best practice”.

“We see ourselves as being compatible to Australia, Canada and the United States.”

MCSA vice-president Andile Sangqu says the newly established CEO forum mining members led companies with global operations.

“Best practice is not limited to what we have learnt in South Africa alone. Safety practices and standards are shared globally,” says Sangqu. 

Before the safety regression, the South African mining sector “was world-class”, according to Sibanye-Stillwater’s CEO, Neal Froneman.

“We are far more of a labour-intensive industry than anywhere else in the world. “But one death is one too many,” said Froneman.

Froneman said research to understand seismicity was crucial. On whether mechanisation is the answer to address mine fatalities, Froneman said: “The reason coal mines are safer is because of being mechanised. The challenge in gold mines is that they are narrow and have a tabular reef.”

Sangqu wants to see South Africa embracing mechanisation in mining.

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