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Middelbult, 13 May 1993

On 13 May 1993 a methane gas explosion 130 metres below the surface at Sasol Mining’s Middelbult colliery near Secunda, started an underground fire that resulted in the death of 53 mineworkers. A further seven employees were injured.

The Leon Commission of Inquiry into Safety and Health in the Mining Industry, appointed on 28 May 1993 and which led the way to the new Mine Health and Safety Act as well as the Mining Regulation Advisory Committee (MRAC), identified fires caused by coal dust as one of the key areas of concern in mine safety and health. The MRAC appointed a tripartite task team to advise on measures to be taken in mitigating the risk of coal mine ignitions. The task team found inadequacies in the regulatory requirements relating to the prevention of coal dust explosions. The task team was consequently further tasked with compiling guidelines for an appropriate code of practice.

The guidelines on Prevention of Flammable Gas and Coal Dust Explosions in Collieries was released in 2002 and states that the fire risk in any mine has to be managed properly. This is achieved by an assessment of the risks involved, monitoring of fire risk controls, good mine and ventilation system design, equipment and material selection, the preparation, implementation and enforcement of formal appropriate mine-specific standards.

Over the years, the coal mining industry has demonstrated a continued improvement in its safety performance, reducing fatalities significantly since 2003, when it was performing worse than countries such as the United States (US) and Australia. Since 2010, this trend has shifted, and the South African coal sector’s fatality frequency rates now outperform coal mines in the US.

The South African coal sector has seen vast safety improvements over the past years and South African coal mines are among the safest mines in the world today.

Significant strides in improving industry safety and health performance in recent years have been possible through the collaborative efforts of employees and unions, the support of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, and mining companies.

The Minerals Council and its members are committed to a policy of zero harm and to ensuring that every mineworker returns from work unharmed every day. Every fatality is one too many and through the steps taken and lessons learnt from tragedies such as Middelbult, we strive never to experience a disaster of this magnitude again.

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