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Zwane: ‘Health and safety is a priority’

The mining and minerals sector must be regulated for improved health and safety, writes Mosebenzi Zwane

THE Department regulates a sector facing numerous challenges that require collective efforts from all stakeholders. One of these challenges is the issue of health and safety at the mines.

The recent fall -of – ground accident which occurred at Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine has again brought health and safety into the spotlight. It follows an accident in July where workers lost their lives at Tau Lekoa Gold Mine in Orkney. One life lost is one too many, and we need to step up efforts to ensure that mine employees’ safety remains a priority.

Health and safety remains a key area of focus for the Department. The ultimate goal remains that of ensuring that every worker returns home unharmed every day.

As a Department, we are increasing efforts aimed at ensuring that mineworkers have a safe and dignified working environment, in line with the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA).

The Department implements the Act in order to – inter alia – promote a culture of health and safety; provide for effective monitoring systems, inspections and inquiries to improve health and safety and entrench the right to refuse to work in dangerous conditions.

In addition, our entities are working on, among other things, the establishment and integration of seismic networks.

The Council for Geoscience (CGS) collaborates with the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) in this project, which seeks to bridge the gap in the monitoring of mine seismicity within South Africa between the underground mining networks and the South African National Seismograph Network (SANSN).

This is done by installing state of the art equipment at surface stations within the mining districts. These stations send data in real time to the central data centre in Pretoria where it is automatically located and the information can be monitored on a dedicated website.

This project was started in the Klerksdorp-Orkney-Stillfontein- Hartbeesfontein (KOSH) gold mining region.

The project enables us to not only monitor seismic activities that involve rock falls in mines, but also aims to improve our predictive capacity in order to save the lives of mineworkers, amongst others.

The comprehensive information garnered to date is being analysed. With the growth of deep mining in other areas, both the CGS and MHSC have been directed to extend the seismic networks into these areas.

The CGS and the MHSC are further collaborating to install more seismic stations in the Bushveld Igneous complex as part of expanding the seismic network that seeks to establish a greater understanding of the seismicity that results in rock falls – this programme will contribute towards the commitment of the mining stakeholders to zero harm, zero fatalities.

However, we cannot do this on our own.

We require all stakeholders on board to ensure the goal of zero harm is realised.

Our partnership thus far has seen fatalities reduce considerably.

Beyond just the numbers of fatalities that are recorded, there are human beings, who are valued by their loved ones. Our goal of ensuring that every mineworker returns home unharmed everyday is one that we do not take lightly.

In this regard, stakeholders from government, organised business and organised labour convened last year to review milestones to be reached by the industry on health and safety.

The milestones include the following:

  • All mines must have a target of zero for fatalities; Fatalities to be eliminated by 2020
  • Using present diagnostic techniques, no new cases of silicosis, pneumoconiosis, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis will occur amongst previously unexposed individuals.
  • In order to eliminate noiseinduced hearing loss, by December 2024, the total operational or process noise emitted by any equipment must not exceed a milestone sound pressure level of 107 dB(A).

All stakeholders – at the highest level – have committed to these milestones, which were first developed in 2014. We therefore all have an obligation to ensure they are realised.

As the year draws to a close, historically the trend has been that fatalities increase at our mines. We will be intensifying awareness campaigns at mines, particularly those that have experienced fatalities in the current year.

We call on all employers and employees in the sector to work with us in this regard.

Health and safety is crucial for the long-term growth and sustainability of the mining sector.

South Africa is without doubt a country with immense mining opportunities that have the potential to benefit all. We therefore have a responsibility to ensure that we mine responsibly, and continue to prioritise the health and safety of all workers in the sector, as we together move the mining industry forward.

Mosebenzi Zwane is Minister of Mineral Resources

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