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The increase in mining fatalities in South Africa’s mining sector over the past two years has increased the urgency of improving health and safety in the sector, Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe said on Thursday.
Speaking at the opening of the Mine Health and Safety Summit, in Benoni, he cited the increase in mine fatalities to 88 during 2017. Mine fatalities seem to be on the rise again this year, with 69 fatalities already recorded for 2018.
If the objective of ‘zero harm’ in South African mining can be achieved within the next three months, until December 31, the Minister believes it would be possible to turn the tide for the better.
Mantashe noted that the summit was moved forward from its initially scheduled dates in November, owing to the increasing numbers of fatalities and disasters, which is defined as an accident in which four or more people are killed.
The summit, which is expected to attract about 700 delegates across two days, is hosted by the Mine Health and Safety Council and is aimed at providing an environment in which industry stakeholders can take decisions to try to reduce the number of fatalities, and incidents that result in injuries, within the mining sector.
“When there is an improvement [in health and safety in the mining industry], we commend the [mining] companies. But we forget to commend the workers – because it is the worker who puts his [or her] life on the line to convert anybody’s investment into wealth,” he stated.
However, the Minister pointed out that, in order to achieve health and safety objectives within the industry, the industry will need to pay attention to several factors.
He urged mining companies to avoid putting pressure on workers to chase production targets, as this contributes to additional stress and anxiety among employees to perform. Managers should also receive people management training, he added.
Further, Mantashe said that while not always possible to avoid, retrenchment announcements need to be culled. These, he explained, sow the seeds of disaster in a mine.
“Announcements of retrenchments sow the seeds of disaster in a mine because, once announced, workers are anxious and lose focus and concentration because they are not sure whether they will still have a job”.
Mining companies also need to ensure that continuous education and training on health and safety procedures take place at an operation, as mineworkers need to be involved in continuous education.
The industry will also need to focus on improving its communication chain, from top level management to the workers. If everyone is informed and aware, Mantashe believes this will reduce the amount of incidents on mines.
Eagerness for promotion among employees is another threat to safety, the Minister pointed out. “People, who are eager to be promoted, [sometimes] cut corners to prove that they can do the impossible. This can result in people dying in the process.”
Mantashe lamented that human behaviour is the root of the majority of disasters and accidents in the industry. In this regard, the Minister appealed to trade unions to provide additional, and continuous, education of their members about workers’ rights, which can be beneficial.
According to law, mineworkers have the right to refuse to enter a dangerous working environment, as well as the right to representation.
More attention must be paid to the health aspects of mining operations, Mantashe averred, noting that the rehabilitation of mines is very important, considering that industry stakeholders “have a responsibility to coexist with the communities where they are mining”.
Additionally, Mantashe highlighted the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as a driver for change in the industry.
He advised delegates, and industry stakeholders, to become drivers for change in the industry, rather than victims. The 4IR, he explained, will bring about technology implementation, which can, again, lead to further safety improvements in a modern mining sector.
Health and safety, especially in mining, Mantashe noted, is “not a test” but rather a driver that leads to the improved competitiveness and sustainability of the industry.
“If we do not have the correct mentality about ourselves, that we are an attractive mining sector and investment destination, then we are going to lose ourselves. If we attend to these factors, we can improve investor interest into South African mining from the rest of the world,” he said.
This mentality, Mantashe believes, will improve South Africa’s investment ratings and, in turn, its economy.
The Minerals Council South Africa (MCSA), meanwhile, recommitted to the goal of “zero harm” at the summit on Thursday.
MCSA VP Neal Froneman highlighted the council’s safety and health day campaign, which was launched in August, in terms of which all mines of all members are committed to carrying out special activities on a designated date.
The public campaign is designed as a recommitment to the industry’s goal of ensuring that all employees go to work in the knowledge that they will return home every day, unharmed.
Froneman also highlighted the work done by the Mining Industry Occupational Safety and Health Learning Hub, through which MCSA members learn and implement best safety practices.
“All of this work shows that there is no single solution to mine health and safety. We have to keep working on a broad range of issues and levels and, more importantly, all stakeholders have a responsibility to work together if the goal of zero harm is to be achieved,” he said.
Froneman emphasised the MCSA’s support for the right of workers who fear that they are working in unsafe conditions to withdraw from those areas until it is safe to work in.source: miningweekly.com