Mine Accidents and Disasters

MINE ACCIDENTS AND DISASTERS

The overall number of deaths in the South African mining industry has declined over the past decades, but the greatest impact of mining accidents is noticed amongst the family members and colleagues left behind after a mine worker lost his or her life.

South Africa is known for its diverse wealth of minerals, but even better known for a very well-regulated mining industry. The Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate continuously enforce legislation and national mining standards to reduce mining deaths and occupational injuries.

Between 1984 and 2005, more than 11 000 mine workers died in South Africa. In 2003, the death toll from mining accidents was approximately 270 fatalities and an agreement was reached to reduce mining fatalities by 20% per annum.

The year 2010 was an achievement for the South African mining industry with a 24% reduction year-on-year since the 2003 agreement. Figures released annually confirms that the actual fatalities continued to decline even more.

 

The Mine Health and Safety Council was established in June 1997 in terms of Section 41(1) of the Mine Health and Safety Act, 1996 (Act 29 of 1996), as amended.

It consists of members representing Government, employees and employers in the South African mining industry.

The responsibilities of the Mine Health and Safety Council are governed by Sections 43 and 44 of the Mine Health and Safety Act, 1996 (Act 29 of 1996), as amended, and it must:

  • Advise the Minister of Mineral Resources on health and safety at mines in South Africa.
  • Co-ordinate the activities of its committees, receive reports from these committees and liaise with the Mining Qualifications Authority or MQA on matters relating to health and safety.
  • Liaise with any other statutory body concerned with matters relating to health and safety in the South African mining industry.
  • Promote a culture of health and safety in the South African mining industry.
  • Arrange and co-ordinate tripartite summits to review the state of safety and health at mines every two years.

For more information, visit www.mhsc.org.za

The South African Mines Reportable Accidents Statistical System or SAMRASS database was established in 1988 after the Department of Mineral Resources revisited the entire system of accident reporting and record-keeping.

In terms of Chapter 23 of the Mine Health and Safety Act, 1996 (Act 29 of 1996), as amended, employers must report accidents and dangerous occurrences at a mine to the Regional Principal Inspector of Mines. The data is captured onto the South African Mines Reportable Accidents Statistical System or SAMRASS database from which the information is analysed.

The correct description of accidents or dangerous occurrences is of the utmost importance if the statistics produced from these reports, are to be meaningful. It is therefore important to:

  • Use the appropriate coding in the SAMRASS Code Book Section B 12 (for accidents) and Section B13 (for dangerous occurrences) when reporting. To download a copy of the SAMRASS Code Book, please click here.
  • Complete the prescribed forms when reporting accidents and dangerous occurrences at a mine. To download copies of these forms, please see the Download Resources section below. 


For more information, contact us at mhsi@dmr.gov.za.

The worst mining disasters in the South African mining industry are listed below:

  • 435 Miners lost their lives on 21 January 1960 at Coalbrook North Colliery situated near Sasolburg, Free State.  A complete underground mine area collapse was caused by the disintegration of underground pillars supporting the tunnel roofs. The bodies of the mine workers that were killed in this accident were never recovered.
  • 177 Mine workers were killed on 16 September 1986 at the Kinross Gold Mine in Evander, Mpumalanga. An acetylene cylinder ignited the polyurethane foam that covered the side-walls of the mining tunnel. The miners were choked to death by the toxic fumes from the combination of burning plastic and polyurethane. As result of this accident, the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate developed a national standard with reference to the selection and use of foam in South African mines (SANS 1867:2003). This South African National Standard can be obtained from the South African Bureau of Standards, please visit: https://store.sabs.co.za/
  • 104 Deaths due to a mining accident were reported at the Vaal Reefs Number Two Shaft near Orkney, North West, on 10 May 1995. An underground locomotive fell down a shaft and landed onto a cage loaded with night shift mine workers coming to surface. This was arguably one of the worst accidents in the mining industry in South Africa. As a result of this mining disaster, legislation was reviewed and the implementation of stop gates at shaft entrances became compulsory. As result of this accident, the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate developed a national standard with reference to mine locomotive control systems (SANS 1809:2012) which is still enforced today. This South African National Standard can be obtained from the South African Bureau of Standards, please visit: https://store.sabs.co.za/
  • 64 Mine workers lost their lives on 12 September 1983 at the Hlobane Colliery near Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal. This is exactly 39 years after the 1944 Hlobane Colliery mining disaster. The methane gas and dust explosion tore through the mine when a flame-proof electrical drilling machine ignited the gas. This lead to the introduction of accredited test laboratories to test equipment used in hazardous locations to national and international standards. It also resulted in the introduction to the existing Inspection Authority (IA) certificates that are still used in the South African mining industry today.
  • 62 Fatalities were reported on 31 of August 1987 as a result of a methane gas explosion at the St Helena Gold mine in Welkom, Free State, that caused a conveyance in the shaft to plunge 1.4km to the bottom of the mine shaft.
  • 57 Miners were killed on 12 September 1944 at the Hlobane Colliery near Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal. Insufficient ventilation while mining through a dyke (rock in the coal seam) allowed methane to accumulate in the mine overnight. A miner relighting his lamp while checking for methane gas, ignited the methane gas and caused a massive explosion.
  • 53 Deaths due to a mining accident were reported on 13 May 1993 at the Middelbult Colliery near Secunda, Mpumalanga. A major coal-dust explosion was caused by a small volume of methane gas that came into contact with a source of heat. This mining accident resulted in the revision of the then Minerals Act Regulations to include a section on hazardous locations. These regulations have been revised and can be found in Chapter 10 of the Mine Health and Safety Act, 1996 (Act 29 of 1996), as amended.
  • 34 Fatalities were reported at the Ermelo Mine near Ermelo, Mpumalanga, on 9 April 1987. These mine workers were killed 107 metres below ground in a methane gas explosion.  
  • 33 Mine workers were killed in a methane gas explosion at the Middelbult Colliery in Secunda, Mpumalanga, on 12 August 1985. 
  • 21 Miners lost their lives on 12 September 1990 at Vaal Reefs near Orkney, North West.
  • 20 Mine workers died on 27 November 1996 at Rovic Diamonds as a result of inundation.

For more information, contact us at mhsi@dmr.gov.za.