Recently released mine safety statistics showed a decrease in fatalities. But just days after that good news from Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was announced, the Lily gold mine accident took place and this disaster has been on front pages since.
The statistics showed that mining fatalities had dropped by 8%. There were 77 deaths among mineworkers during 2015 but that was the lowest reported number of deaths in the mining sector ever recorded.
As we received the good news, tragedy struck and it has brought us all back down to Earth
The Lily mine incident is a tragic one and highlights that while improvements have been made, the mining environment is a volatile one and filled with onsite risks that jeopardise the lives of our mineworkers daily. In other words, we must still continue to work on improving safety measures at our mining sites. In the particular case of the Lily mine accident, an investigation will be able to answer questions about why the container, which was being used as an administrative office, crashed. The container crashed down a sinkhole and there is a possibility that the sinkhole opened up because the area has been heavily mined and the mine design, right from the get-go, didn’t account for areas of weakness. But right now, these are speculative thoughts and an in-depth investigation will reveal all.
The way the Lily mine accident has been handled has been commendable
The Lily mine accident has been handled and reported on with absolute transparency, something which the mining industry in South Africa is not known for. However, this transparency has showcased the support that the mine and the workers have received. Mine rescue services have been efficient and effective in their operation and the stakeholders have rallied together in support. Essentially, while the Lily mine accident is truly horrific, South Africa’s mining sector has proven itself better than it’s been before.
The mining statistics from 2015 do show this positivity and are a solid platform from which key stakeholders can nurture development and increase safety, in particular preventative measures at our mining sites. These statistics is on par with counterparts in Canada and Australia. This could be put down to stakeholders, regulators and unionists coming together to tackle the safety issues in this sector.
Safety measures must be constantly revisited to prevent more tragedy
Safety issues at the mines are a technical affair and mining engineers and safety officers must do the necessary to map out the best practice to protect all workers on site. This can start with the smallest installation of bollards mapping out truck and heavy equipment routes to identifying all weak points where sink holes may occur.