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AMN - United effort needed to lift safety – comment by Yolanda Torrisi

Yol headshot May 2011

The latest statistics on mining fatalities in South Africa are a sombre reminder for Africa’s mining industry that one life lost is one too many. While mining fatalities declined by nine people or 10% last year, 81 people still lost their lives in the southern African nation. That’s 81 lives too many.

Zero lives lost is an important goal for the continent’s industry as much needed safety measures are implemented and companies continually strive to protect workers. Yes, improvements have been made over time but as South African Mines Minister Gwede Mantashe pointed out, we cannot be complacent. Each life lost is a tragedy.

Every person lost is a loss not only to their work teams and colleagues but also to their families and communities; to their economy and society.

When all 157 people died on board an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash in Hejere this week I was reminded of another disaster on the continent. The Sundance Resources plane crash in the Republic of Congo nine years ago. Eleven people died on the charter plane, including entrepreneur Ken Talbot, all the company’s directors and a number of workers.

Whether it be on a plane, mine site or production plant, ensuring our employees, contractors and visitors are protected is a vital responsibility we must value.

The continent’s mining industry can be a dangerous place to work at times but our role as a sector is to actively ensure no lives are lost on our watch … none.

All involved in the mining industry, as well as government departments and politicians, need to act in a united capacity to improve safety in the industry – at mine sites, in processing plants, underground, in open pits, in camps, in mine transport, at equipment manufacturing plants, etc. Rather than finger-pointing, let’s all work together.

South Africa is aiming for zero harm in the industry by 2020. That’s next year. Already the nation’s mining industry has lost five people for 2019. While it’s nine fewer people than this time last year, it’s a reminder zero lives lost is no small goal. Every failure is one life lost.

The total number of South African incidents last year declined by 319, or 12%, to 2,669, a high number that’s still far away from zero.

Minister Mantashe previously led a push to prosecute people directly responsible for mining incidents. Now, that momentum has fallen away, but our commitment should not. Zero harm is zero harm. There should be no more fatalities next year and there should be no more fatalities this year, or incidents.

Forty people died in South Africa’s gold sector last year, 12 in the platinum sector, nine in the coal sector and 20 more in chrome, copper, diamonds, iron ore and other sectors. Let us take pause and reflect on how we can do better.

- Yolanda Torrisi is Chairperson of The African Mining Network and comments on African mining issues and the growing global interest in the continent. Contact:yolanda@yolandatorrisi.com