The Minerals Council South Africa last week commemorated the National Day of Health and Safety in Mining 2021, an event that underpins and supports the Khumbul’ekhaya Health & Safety Strategy.

This year’s event was centred on a theme of Renewed Focus for our New Normal, which recognises the integration of health, safety and wellbeing, acknowledging the regression in fatalities in 2020 compared with 2019, the impacts of Covid-19 and the consequent behaviour changes needed.

According to Roger Baxter, CEO of the Minerals Council, the history of the day is rooted in the Khumbul’ekhaya campaign initiated to remind us all, and particularly the leadership of our industry, of the need to maintain an intense focus on the safety and health of our industry’s employees. “Any measure of the effectiveness and progress of our industry must look first at progress towards ensuring that every employee returns home as healthily and safely as they left home to head for their workplace,” says Baxter.

“The last 18 months have confronted us with an additional and most profound health challenge. I would like to thank everyone present for the remarkable role you have all played in optimising lives and livelihoods – government, organised labour and industry. Together, we have as an industry done a remarkable job of working together to protect our employees from the ravages of Covid-19 as far as this has been possible – working hard to save lives and livelihoods. And we will continue with this. But, the way forward for us, as an industry and a country, is to achieve community immunity through vaccination.”

Mines should continue focusing on the health and safety of their workers.  Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Mines should continue focusing on the health and safety of their workers.  Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

In her address, Nolitha Fakude, President of the Minerals Council noted: “Covid-19 has been a part of our lives for close on 18 months now, with its impacts on health, safety and well-being. And it is not going to leave us for some time to come. We saw in 2020 a deterioration in mining’s safety performance in terms of fatalities. Worse still, thus far in 2021, we are seeing a further deterioration in the fatality trend. This is not acceptable to us, as the Minerals Council and the industry. For all these reasons, our CEO Zero Harm Forum has decided that the theme for today, and for the year ahead, should be: Renewed Focus for our New Normal.”

Chief Inspector of Mines David Msiza commended the Minerals Council’s initiative to hold the event in that it gives all stakeholders “the opportunity to reflect on health and safety issues. It was important that we worked together in dealing with Covid. We have made a huge difference. I commend all of us – government, industry and organised labour for our efforts,” he said.

He said that mine health and safety continues to be a government priority. “We are intent on working to implement a culture of zero harm. We still believe zero harm is possible,” he added.

Assessing the past year, Msiza said he was pleased at the reduction in occupational diseases. But the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss and occupational lung disease is still a concern. There has been a 26% reduction in injuries. However, 60 fatalities, an increase on the 51 in 2019, was very disappointing, he said.

AMCU Health and Safety chair Gabriel Nkosi reaffirmed AMCU’s commitment to the Mine Health and Safety Council safety milestones. He said it was time to reinforce training of safety representatives. He said he was delighted with the performance of the Masoyise health programme’s efforts to reduce the incidence of TB and other diseases.

However, he added: “Covid-19 has interfered with efforts to address incidence of fatalities. It worries us that the 60 lives lost in 2020 are higher than the 51 lives lost in 2019. Operational discipline is a big concern.” On Covid, he added: “Let us adhere to non-pharmaceutical interventions until all mineworkers are vaccinated.”