/ 31 January 2023

Mine fatalities at a record low in 2022

Visit To Sibanye Stillwater Khuseleka Platinum Mine
Workers at a Sibanye-Stillwater gold mine in Randfontein were trapped for some time before being freed earlier this week after an electricity supply interruption caused by power lines that fell due to the integrity of the pylons along these lines being compromised by theft and vandalism. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South African mines recorded 49 fatalities in 2022, a record low and a 34% improvement on the 74 deaths in 2021.

“This is a result of concerted efforts by all social partners who actively participated in the health and safety campaigns throughout the years,” Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said in a statement accompanying the department’s presentation on Tuesday of annual mine health and safety statistics.

“However, we must redouble our efforts and ensure that there is no loss of life in the industry as one life lost is one too many.” 

The statistics indicate that the most significant progress is in the reduction of deaths from falls of ground accidents, Mantashe said, with a 70% reduction from 20 fatalities in 2021 to six in 2022.

Falls of ground accidents are rock falling from the mine roof into a mine opening, and usually account for the bulk of injuries and fatalities in the mining industry.

No falls of ground fatal accident were reported in the gold sector for seven consecutive months until July 2022. Three fatalities occurred in August, November and December.

The other three deaths resulting from falls of ground were in coal, platinum and chrome underground mines. 

There was a 4% decrease in the number of mine injuries, from 2 143 in 2021 to 2 056 last year. 

The latest available data shows that occupational diseases dipped by 4.42%, from 2 013 cases in 2020 to 1 924 cases in 2021. Of these, silicosis cases decreased by 11.43% year-on-year to 240 in 2021 and pulmonary tuberculosis cases were down 6.6% to 793.

The only occupational disease that experienced an increase was noise-induced hearing loss. There were 776 such cases in 2021 compared with 738 in 2020, a 5.15% rise.

“The latest statistics and reports on occupational health show that employees are exposed to hazards that exceed the occupational exposure limit. This is a great concern to us,” Mantashe said. 

“The lowest records on fatalities, injuries and occupational diseases are encouraging. However, we can do better than this. Collaboration and the spirit of genuine tripartism should be our anchor going forward.”

Lerato Tsele, the acting head of safety and sustainable development at the Minerals Council, said the industry would build on the momentum achieved during 2022.

“This has been the result of many organisational and industry level interventions and resolute leadership from, particularly, the industry CEOs initiating and supporting multi-tier projects,” Tsele said.

The council’s head of health, Thuthula Balfour, said the industry body was “heartened” to see that occupational diseases reported continue to decline. From 2018 to 2021, there was a reduction of 44% and 54% in occupational diseases and TB respectively.