Compiled by Sharyn Macnamara
On 17 August this year the Minerals Council South Africa hosted the sixth National Day of Health and Safety in Mining with the theme “Always: Vigilance, Learning and Improving”. There have been glimpses of the achievement of the target of Zero Harm over the past year – but the quest requires an ongoing, relentless effort on many levels from all stakeholders.
This year’s National Day of Health and Safety in Mining was opened by the president of the Minerals Council, Nolitha Fakude on a sombre note – a minute of silence was dedicated to all those mining colleagues who have tragically lost their lives on mines in South Africa. She noted that this year’s theme, “Always: Vigilance, Learning and Improving reminds us to always remain vigilant in protecting the lives and well-being of every one of us at work in our industry. It also reminds us that we can only succeed in this commitment to eliminate fatalities by continuously learning through research and development – as well as from each other – to ensure implementation of best practices.” She added, “The safety performance in January 2023 gave us hope because, for the first time ever, we had a fatality-free first month of the year. These milestones are a confirmation that our aspiration of zero fatalities is realistic and achievable. We will be disappointed if 2023 does not see a further reduction in fatalities compared to last year.
National Day of Health and Safety in Mining with a purpose The overarching message of the day was that this event is always an inclusive and collaborative, non-competitive engagement between the Minerals Council (and its more than 70 member companies and CEO’s), senior government officials, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate and leaders of organised labour. With additional addresses, safety updates and sentiments shared on the day by David Msiza, chief inspector of Mines, Gabriel Nkosi from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), Duncan Luvuno from National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Hanlie van Vuuren from Solidarity Chris Smith from United Association of South Africa (UASA) and Japie Fullard, Chair of the Minerals Council’s CEO Zero Harm Forum, it was reiterated by all that since its inception in 2018, the goal of this national day has been to demonstrate initiatives and efforts made by the industry in addressing health and safety-related issues, to reinforce industry commitment, and to learn from one another to reach the common quest of Zero Harm.
In 2019 the Minerals Council launched the Khumbul’ekhaya campaign1, meaning “remember home” in Zulu. Fakude explained, “It urges us to think of the human impact of every health and
safety decision we make. It challenges us to prevent fatalities and injuries by integrating health and safety into every aspect of our work. And it inspires us to keep improving our performance and standards.” She noted that the campaign has yielded results – “For the first time in history, we recorded fewer than 50 fatalities in a calendar year. Nonetheless, the Minerals Council mourns the tragic loss of 49 employees who perished in mine accidents in 2022. We know that every life lost or harmed is one too many. And we know that we have a responsibility to our workers, their families and our society to ensure that mining is not only profitable, but also safe and sustainable.”
Trends in occupational health
Per the Minerals Council, there are continuing reductions in the incidences of most occupational diseases, but there are still areas that need more focus to ensure a downward trajectory.
The incidence of noise-induced hearing loss is rising, requiring special attention from mining companies. In 2022, there were 776 cases compared to 738 the year before.
The mining industry’s biggest achievement, said Fakude, is that tuberculosis incidences continue to trend lower and remains well below the national rate of infection – this was a target the industry set and has achieved since 2017. In 2022, there were 278 cases per 100 000 employees compared to 537 per 100 000 in the general population. In 2020 and 2021, with reduced screening, there were 220 and 224 incidents per 100 000 in the mining industry. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, mining companies focused on screening and treatment of the COVID-19, causing reduced screening and monitoring of other occupational diseases. Since 2022, as the work environment has normalised, and health interventions of mines returned to pre-COVID levels, there has been a renewed focus on higher levels of screening and monitoring, which were bound to result in an apparent increase in incidences compared to the COVID period. “TB in our gold sector is, however, still high at around the national incidence. This has prompted our Health Policy Committee to establish a Gold TB Working Group that will focus on all interventions possible to reduce TB in the gold sector,” said Fakude.
Gender discrimination and GBV
“Our health and safety work is not limited to the occupational hazards we have been speaking about for so many decades. We are also working tirelessly to eliminate gender discrimination in mining, as we continue to seek to increase the presence of women in mining occupations. A critical part of that work is the need to invest significant time and energy in addressing the issue of gender-based violence,” Fakude expounded.
The industry is attempting to fight the scourge of GBV – not only at mine level, but at community level too – through the Minerals Council’s women in mining programme and through the Mine
Health and Safety Council’s Women in Mining Advisory Committee. There is still much to be done across the industry to make mining a fully safe and supportive industry, where women can not only work but also fully develop and progress in their careers.
Watch this space for more on the facts and figures in part two of our series on the industry’s update with regards Health and Safety in South African Mining.
1. The Khumbul’ekhaya campaign goals include and have been expanded to:
- Prevent fatalities and eliminate occupational exposures and diseases.
- Integrate health and safety into every aspect of our work.
- Intensify vigilance and effort on both.