Fatal Occupational Injuries Among South African Miners

Web site compiled by: Rickey Hall, Starr Sage, Kenton Dodd

Trends in Injuries

In recent decades, the mining fatality rates both in South Africa and other mining nations have been on the decline. Mining-related injury, fatality, and occupational disease surveillance data for all mines operating in South Africa have been collected by the South African Department of Minerals and Energy for decades. In 1988, however, this arm of the government implemented a new "accident" reorting system called the South African Mines Reportable Accidents Statistics System (Department of Minerals and Energy, 2003). According to this agency, since 1984 the rates of fatal injury have been on the decline. In 1984, there were 1.12 fatal mining injuries per 1,000 workers, and this rate, by 2000, had decreased to 0.71 (Department of Minerals and Energy, 2003). According to the data, in 1999, there were 309 fatalities, which indicates a fatality rate of 0.76; in 2000, there were 285 fatalities, corresponding to a fatality rate of 0.71 per 1,000 workers; and, in 2001, there were 301 fatalities, which is a fatality rate of 0.79 (Moorman, Paolini and Buchan, 2002). In general, “fall of ground” and “fall of material/rolling rock” are the main causes of death and these accounted for 138 of the total deaths in 2000 (Department of Minerals and Energy, 2003). In the following year, the top five sources of fatal injury included:

  • fall of ground
  • mining transportation
  • falling in/from mine
  • inundation/drowning
  • machinery.

It should also be noted that, “Gold and platinum mines, with 71% of the workforce, are responsible for 77% of deaths and 88% of injuries” (Moorman, Paolini and Buchan, 2002). The majority of South African miners in gold and platinum mines work underground, putting them at greater risk for injuries and fatalities. Surface mining operations are far less hazardous than these underground operations. This suggests that perhaps new intervention strategies should be designed to better address the hazards associated with gold and platinum mining populations.

Another primary factor contributing to mining fatalities in South Africa is the remote location of many of the mines. “In the mining industry, delays in access to definitive care and appropriate hospitals are often unavoidable due to the remoteness of many mining operations and working places” (Moorman, Paolini and Buchan, 2002). The confined work space in mines is another factor making mining quite dangerous. A confined work area can be defined as an enclosed space that has limited or restricted entrances and exits. Generally these spaces are not designed for people to spend a large amount of time in, as miners often do. These confined mining spaces are made more hazardous by poor ventilation, poor visibility, and high air concentrations of combustible or toxic dust, gas and vapor.

Costs of Injuries