RANDFONTEIN, South Africa (Reuters) - The number of miners killed in South Africa's mines fell in 2016 to a new record low of 73 from 77 in 2015 following a crackdown by the government, mines minister Mosebenzi Zwane said on Thursday.
It was the ninth consecutive year that fatalities fell as the industry in the world's top platinum producer has strived to improve an appalling safety record, which under apartheid saw hundreds of men killed underground annually.
"If you can't mine safely, don't mine at all," Zwane said at a news briefing at the corporate offices of bullion producer Harmony Gold west of Johannesburg.
"We welcome the progress ... but families are still losing their loved ones," he said.
Zwane said 30 miners were killed in the gold sector in 2016, 27 in platinum, four in coal and 12 in others such as copper, diamonds and iron ore. There was also a decrease in injuries to 2,662 in 2016 from 3,138 in 2015.
With an unforgiving geology, South Africa is home to the world's deepest mines where workers labor up to 4 km (2-1/2 miles) beneath the surface.
One simple innovation has been credited with saving scores of lives in recent years: netting to catch falling rocks at the face, or stope, where drilling and blasting take place.
Zwane also said he aimed to finish revisions to an industry charter in the first quarter of 2016 or the next quarter "at the latest".
Launched in 2002 to redress racial imbalances that still define the post-apartheid economy, the charter was revised in 2010 and the government is again redrawing targets, which include requirements for black ownership.
(Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by James Macharia)