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Hlobane, 12 September 1983

The Minerals Council South Africa and the coal industry remembers the 64 miners who lost their lives in a methane explosion at the Hlobane colliery, near the town of Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal. The explosion was South Africa’s second most deadly colliery disaster.

Official investigations indicated that the explosion had been caused by a spark from a mining tool that ignited a large pocket of methane gas.

Methane is an odourless gas that is highly flammable and is naturally found in many coal and gold mines. If the methane is not detected timeously, it can ignite from a small spark. Today, highly developed technology and communication channels have improved at mines, enabling them to manage the methane threat. Wireless detection systems aid in underground monitoring- to monitor methane and carbon monoxide levels. Machinery and electricity supplies are automatically shut off once methane gas levels reach 1.5%.

In addition, mining tools are now spark- and fire-proof, miners cannot return to workplaces that have not been made safe, modern ventilation systems ensure that noxious gases and dust are removed from mine workings and greater awareness of safety is instilled in the minds of all miners as they go to their workplaces.

The Leon Commission of Inquiry of 1993 led the way to the establishment of the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC). The Mining Regulation Advisory Committee, under the auspices of the MHSC, appointed a tripartite task team to advise on measures to be taken in mitigating the risk of methane ignitions, although the focus of their study was on methane ignitions in coal mines where methane gas is more prevalent. The task team was further tasked with compiling guidelines for the Mandatory Code of Practice for the Prevention of Flammable Gas Explosions in Mines Other than Coal Mines. The Code of Practice can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/3ASZlsL

In August 2022, the industry demonstrated its commitment to the shared imperative of Zero Harm by commemorating the fifth annual National Day of Health and Safety in Mining. Since its inception in 2018, the goal has been to demonstrate efforts made by the industry in addressing health and safety-related issues, to reinforce its commitment, and to learn from one another to reach the common goal of Zero Harm.

In memory of the 64 men who perished at Hlobane in 1983, let us rededicate ourselves to the highest standards of safety on our mines.