The danger of working underground on South African gold mines was again demonstrated when four mineworkers were killed at work on Saturday 22 July at Tau Lekoa mine at Orkney, North West Province.
The workers were trapped underground following an earth tremor. This happened after mine management ignored safety advice from rock engineers who had visited the mine a few days before the accident.
The accident happened when workers were working overtime, and it may be the case that pressure to reach production targets forced them to work under unsafe conditions. Union campaigns have highlighted workers’ right to refuse unsafe work.
IndustriALL affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said the accident was due to negligence and could have been prevented. The union expressed shock at the number of mineworkers killed in the mines. Although the number of deaths has gone down over the years, NUM fears that this trend might be reversed.
All four bodies were recovered. Three of the mineworkers were South African while one was from Lesotho. The NUM has called on the Department of Mineral Resources to carry out an investigation into the accident.
With 73 mineworkers killed in 2016 and 2,662 injured, occupational health and safety remains a major concern in South African mines. Of the dead, 30 were gold miners, 27 from platinum mines and 12 from diamond, chrome, copper and iron ore mines. With so many workers being killed, achieving “zero harm” in South Africa’s deep gold mines will take far much longer than anticipated.
IndustriALL joins the NUM in sending condolences to the deceased workers’ families. Said Fabian Nkomo, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa:
“We received the news of the death of the workers at Tau Lekoa gold mine with shock and sadness especially when this could have been avoided. Workers safety in the mines must be guaranteed and given priority by employers, and mine management must always ensure workers safety. Adhering to the provisions of the ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines as well as the Health and Safety Act was important.”