/ 18 October 2007

‘Mining danger no excuse to harm people’

South Africa’s mining industry, which records an average of 200 fatalities every year, is seeking to reduce death rates by at least 20% by 2013, the Chamber of Mines said on Thursday.

”To be world-class by 2013, an annual milestone of reducing fatality rates by at least 20% a year is needed,” the chamber’s chief executive, Zoli Diliza, said in a report to a conference on sustainable development in mining. ”Mining is dangerous, but this is no excuse for harming people.”

The report comes at a time when safety standards in the mining industry, which is one of the main engines of the South African economy, have become increasingly under fire.

About 3 200 miners were stuck more than a kilometre underground earlier this month at a mine south-west of Johannesburg for up to 30 hours, prompting President Thabo Mbeki to order a comprehensive safety review at all mines.

At least six miners have died on duty in the past fortnight. The world’s biggest producer of platinum, Anglo Platinum, said on Thursday it shut a shaft at its largest operation on Wednesday after one worker was killed, sending platinum prices to a new record.

Twenty-three illegal miners were recently killed in a fire at a disused shaft in the central Free State.

Diliza acknowledged that South Africa’s safety record falls way short of the standards in other countries, something that has to change.

”Local mining industry’s safety performance was more than 50% worse than that of the benchmark countries of Australia, Canada and the United States,” the report added.

”Care for the people should be at the heart of leadership’s vision towards zero harm … It is critical that tensions between production and safety should be resolved,” it said.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is planning a one-day protest to highlight the continuing deaths of workers in the mining industry, the union said on Thursday.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said the union had not yet received permission to protest from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), or from the mining industry.

”At this stage we do not know when the strike will take place as it has not been legalised yet. But we’re hoping it will take place at the end of the month or early in November,” he said.

Mining, which generated R195-billion in local sales last year, is the largest foreign-exchange earner for South Africa and brought in a total of R355-billion from exports, the chamber said.

As well as being the largest producer of gold in the world, South Africa is also rich in platinum, coal, steel, aluminium and diamonds. — Sapa, AFP