For the first time in almost a decade, more people are dying in South African mines, the world’s deepest and among the most dangerous.
There were 81 fatalities from January through November, according to data from the Chamber of Mines, an industry lobby group. Harmony Gold Mining Co. reported a death at its Tshepong Mine Thursday, bringing the total to 82. That’s the first increase in nine years, and compares with 73 in 2016, the lowest on record.
South Africa has gone from being by far the deadliest place to work in a mine to ranking near rivals including the U.S. and Canada for fatality rates. Conditions have improved in the decades since whites-only rule ended in 1994 — a year in which 484 workers died.
The increase in deaths in 2017 “is particularly disappointing given the improvements we have seen over the past two decades,” Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman for the chamber, said by email. “However, as will be noted, there have been a couple of periods where the improving trend plateaued. In each case further thinking has led to new initiatives.”
South African miners are having to go deeper in ageing shafts to access additional ore in a country that’s been mined commercially for over a century. Most miners killed this year labored in gold and platinum mines, which can extend more than 2 miles (3 kilometers) underground. They accounted for 57 of 73 deaths in 2016, according to the chamber.
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