Fatalities up 20%, first rise since 2008, most in two decades.
Finding minerals in South Africa after more than a century of digging often means going deeper than ever before. Now, it’s also becoming deadlier.
In a country that remains one of the biggest producers of gold, platinum and diamonds, 60 mining deaths this year through August was 20% higher than the same period in 2015, according to the Chamber of Mines, an industry group. The annual tally is heading for its first increase in nine years and the biggest in at least two decades, escalating concerns by both workers and mining executives.
Many of those killed laboured in the searing heat of gold mines that can be more than two miles under ground and traditionally are among the most deadly in South Africa. Various causes have been cited, from falling rock to miners failing to obey safety protocols. But in all cases, that means losses for producers when they are forced to shut mines until government investigations are completed.
“You would expect the response from the regulator would be a strong one, and that’s what we are seeing,” said Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan, the chief executive officer at AngloGold Ashanti, South Africa’s biggest producer of the metal.
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has expressed concern about the industry’s poor safety performance this year and urged companies to step up their efforts, especially because injuries and deaths tend to increase in the second half of the year when there are more work days and higher output. Zwane said on July 14 that his department will investigate the surge in fatalities, which had been dropping over the previous two decades.
Since 1994, when South Africa held its first democratic elections after more than a century of whites-only rule, the number of deaths has plummeted by more than 90%, with the fewest ever last year at 77, the data show. That reflects improved safety measures and a contraction in the industry’s labor force. During the latter years of apartheid, miners were killed at an average rate of about 800 a year, according to the Department of Mineral Resources.
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