Occupational Health and Safety Mining Conference 2019

The mining industry in South Africa remains one of the most significant industries, playing an important role in the economic growth of the country, and creating employment. Interestingly, the industry is said to have made a significant contribution to GDP of $349,42bn in 2018. Nonetheless, mining is also a very dangerous industry, having been responsible for the deaths of thousands of miners throughout the years. The mining industry poses several health risks that include airborne pollutants such as silica dust and coal dust, noise, heat and vibration. Other significant health risks posed by mining include chemical risks, which are not related to underground air pollutants or gases, skin disorders, ergonomic stresses, ionizing radiation and, in the diamond sector on the west coast of the country, decompression illness associated with diving.

Although health risks can be avoided by implementing controls at source in the work environment, designing such controls for mining environments presents considerable challenges because dust and noise are generated by mining itself. Hence, occupational health and safety in mining is an area that needs to be explored and addressed, in order to come up with solutions that could help to eradicate hazards associated with the industry. With regulations of the Mine Health and Safety Act, and establishment of the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate, a steady improvement was witnessed in the performance of the South African mining industry. Although coal, platinum and other mineral mines showed satisfactory performance, the injury fatality rates remained high in the case of underground gold mines, which called for an improvement in the prevention of occupational hazards. Despite an 88% improvement in fatality rates between 1993 and now, the mining industry still faces serious safety problems.