Mining safety in the spotlight

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31 August 2015 - Designed to help prevent an impending crisis, its an agreement that could change the mining industry for the better.?A lifeline, desperately needed, as the result of weakening commodity prices and higher costs.

JOHANNESBURG - Thirty miners have died in South Africa so far this year.

Mining safety has once again come under the spotlight after 13 miners were trapped at Sibanye-Stillwater&39;s Driefontein mine in Carletonville, Gauteng following a seismic event on Thursday.

Four died and three are still trapped in the mine, where search and rescue operations were halted after two more seismic events. 

READ: Union calls for Sibanye Stillwater shutdown as search, rescue operations halted

Over 500 fatalities were recorded in 1995 in South Africa&39;s mining sector.

That number went down dramatically to 199 in 2006.

But over the years there has been a definite spike.

According to Ayanda Shezi, spokesman for the Mineral Resources Department, the gold sector has experienced the most mining fatalities this year. 

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has called on the department to ensure that safety is prioritised.

According to NUM spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu: "Before our members go underground we always tell them they are empowered by the Mine Health and Safety Act to refuse to work in dangerous conditions. But they are promised bonuses if they work certain areas underground and they are tempted because they earn poverty wages."

The president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), Joseph Mathunjwa, Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe must do more to address mine safety.

Mathunjwa accuses mining companies of paying minimal attention to worker safety.

Of Thursday&39;s incident he said: "We believe as Amcu that management pushed the boundaries in terms of production and profit. Because the first seismic event was huge and they were supposed to withdraw all the workers and direct them to a waiting place and give it one or two hours.

"I asked the management why they didn&39;t do it. They said the distance [between the seismic event sites] was 2.1 kilometres ... But after the 3.5 event happened they rushed to withdraw the proto team from the rescue area. You can see clearly the mineworkers lives are very cheap," Mathunjwe said.

In February, more than 900 miners were trapped at a Sibanye gold mine in Free State.

They were all rescued.

Mamokgethi Molopyane, a mining specialist, says there seems to be a high number of seismic activities, "which is concerning, given that we have been mining for so long and some of the technology was pioneered, here. Yet we are not able to ensure the safety of miners."