|Author||Death toll in South African Mines|
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Death toll in South African Mines
Posted: 25/04/2011 11:33:18 Reply | Quote On Monday, 12th September, 1983, at about 08h00, an explosion of methane occurred in sections 5 and 10 of the Boomlager No. 3 area of the Hlobane coal mine, in which 64 persons were killed and 12 persons seriously injured; 4 of the injured died subsequently as a result of their injuries, bringing the total death toll to 68 persons.
It was one of the most extensively investigated explosions in the history of the South African mining industry, and it clearly illustrates how all the pre-conditions for a gas explosion developed over a number of days and ultimately combined to result in the most devastating explosion in the recent mining history of South Africa.
These pre-conditions were as follows:
1. A change in the weather pattern, leading to an enhanced outflow of methane into the underground workings.
2. A disruption of the ventilation system in the sections where the explosion occurred, thus allowing the gas to accumulate.
3. Failure to detect the accumulation of gas
4. A ready source of ignition in the form of the electrical system of a production machine that had been rendered non-flameproof as a result of faulty workmanship.
Whilst looking for more information regarding the first pre-condition (I already have a fair amount) I came across some statistics that both surprised and appalled me. Between 1984 and 2005, more than 11 100 miners died underground in South Africa. While the overall number of deaths has been on a generally declining trend over the past two decades, the number of miners killed below ground has exceeded 200 each year since 2000 until recently. To put that into perspective in 2009, some 165 people lost their lives in mining accidents in South Africa. This marked an improvement on the 171 people who died in the country’s mines in 2008, and the 220 fatalities recorded in 2007, and a represents a significant improvement on the 309 people who lost their lives in the country’s mines in 1999. Again to put this into perspective this level of fatalities represents very poor performance when compared to safety benchmarked countries, such as Australia, Canada and the US.
For example, the US reported 26 fatal accidents at its mines in 2007, and 23 in 2008, according to the US Mine Safety and Health Administration. Australia had four mine deaths in 2007/8, 13 in 2006/7 and 11 in 2005/6, according to the Mineral Council of Australia. Meanwhile, Canada had eight mining fatalities in 2008 and six the previous year.
If the appalling safety wasn’t enough another paramount concern within the South African mining industry is the rising infection of Tuberculosis and other diseases. Continual exposure to silica dust in mine shafts has resulted in a high prevalence of silicosis. Similarly, continued cramped, hot and poorly ventilated working conditions coupled with the spread of HIV infection has also exacerbated tuberculosis infection. Asthma is also a similar concern. Sounds like 19th century and early 20th century conditions.
The South African government has estimated that the T.B. infection rates in their mines are amongst the highest in the world. T.B. and Malaria are already a problem within the communities in which the mines are situated, and as a result mining environments can provide breeding grounds for an already rooted problem.
The mining industry within these regions can also attract mass-migration as people desperate for work seek to gain employment within the mines. This leads to further cramped, sub-standard living conditions and again coaxes the potential spread of these diseases. It also leads to illegal labour being employed down the mines with safety standards that do exist being completely ignored.
It would appear to be the age old system of multinational companies maximizing profits by exploiting people desperate to earn some money to support their families although one hesitates to come to any simplistic conclusions in what is obviously a complicated social and economic problem.
Source for information on the Hlobane disaster:
C.J. Fauconnier, "Fluctuations in barometric pressure as a contributory factor to gas explosions in South African mines". J.S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall., vol. 92, no.5.
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. IP: 220.127.116.11 Edited: 25/04/2011 12:44:19 by carnkie