On 24 January 2020, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) released the Mine Health and Safety Statistics (statistics) for 2019. When the statistics were released, the Minister of Mineral Resources recalled the Coalbrook Disaster which happened on 21 January 1960 where 435 mineworkers lost their lives. The Minister submitted that since then, the mining industry and government has made significant strides to ensure the health and safety of mineworkers in South Africa.
The significant drop in the number of fatalities is certainly encouraging. We do however remain mindful that this is but one factor in assessing improved health and safety conditions of employees in the mining industry and employers are reminded of the importance of assessing both leading and lagging indicators to ensure that businesses are operated on a model of consistently striving to avoid any harm to employees.
The drop in the number of incidents is noted although should not necessarily be relied upon too heavily to demonstrate improvement in the absence of clear comparable data such as lost time injury frequency rates across sectors or for types of injuries. Other factors such as possible lower numbers of employees, fewer shifts worked and possible increases in near misses could lead to lower injury numbers being observed for reasons other than actual increased safety performance.
Ultimately, employers should be focussing on removal of risks to which employees may be exposed and safety statistics should be a tool in this process rather than the goal.
We have analysed the statistics provided and highlight the important ones below.
The DMR will be hosting a Mine Health and Safety Summit later in 2020 which will focus on assessing progress on milestones to improve health and safety in the mining industry.
Shortly after the statistics were released, the Minster tweeted the following -
In a statement about the statistics on its website, the DMR encouraged employers and employees to "work safely and apply zero tolerance on sub-standard work and conditions" where zero harm is the ultimate goal.