South African mining giant Sibanye-Stillwater has signed a safety pledge with the country’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and miners’ unions to reduce risks at its operations, following 21 fatalities at Sibanye-Stillwater mines this year alone.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), UASA and Solidarity all signed the agreement at a health and safety summit this weekend. The summit was the second mining summit convened by Sibanye-Stillwater following public pressure to tackle perceived errors at its operations that have contributed to 45% of all South African mining deaths this year.

The industry aims to eliminate all fatalities and injuries from mines, an initiative known as Zero Harm. To this end, the pledge reads: “As Organised Labour, the DMR and the Management of Sibanye-Stillwater, we acknowledge the parties’ statutory obligation and workers right that our destiny is shared and commit ourselves, through constructive, transparent collaboration and compliance, to achieving Zero Harm.”

The attendees also agreed on a set of practical targets to achieve Zero Harm. The plan of action includes a review of safety structures, a commitment to adequately train workers, investment in research and development to make devices, systems and processes safer, and ensuring the right of workers to withdraw from unsafe workspaces. They also planned future meetings, which will involve individual operation leaders from across Sibanye-Stillwater.

Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman said: “We are encouraged by the commitment by all the stakeholders to addressing the safety challenges at our operations. This process is continuation of activities that are on-going at the operations, to ensure a step change in safety.

“The recognition of the shared responsibility on health and safety, and the collaboration of all stakeholders towards a common goal, is a significant step towards building an industry that is sustainable, and can deliver value safely.”

At current rates, fatalities in South African mines will to exceed the 2017 total of 88; there have already been 47 deaths in the first six months of 2018. 2017 was the first year in a decade that the number of fatalities increased year-on-year, and the continuation of this trend in the first half of 2018 is raising concern.