Govt takes aim at mine managers

South Africa, the world’s largest producer of precious metals, plans to extend its crackdown on mine safety and may prosecute mine managers if fatal accidents are caused by negligence, a top government official said on Wednesday.

“I don’t think the mine managers are doing enough to ensure the safety of workers. It is for that reason that we are taking a hard-line approach of closing the mines,” said Sandile Nogxina, director general of the Department of Minerals and Energy Affairs.

“We are now going to strengthen the enforcement measures—before there was no prosecution for negligence. Chances are that you are going to see them [mine managers] being prosecuted.”

‘People not knowingly sent into mines to die’

Meanwhile, the outgoing president of the Chamber of Mines, Lazarus Zim, said the industry did not knowingly and willingly send people into mines to die.

“The chamber and its members are acutely aware that government, not only at the level of the minister and the Department of Minerals and Energy, but also the president, are becoming increasingly uneasy about surface and underground incidents that cause injuries and loss of life,” said Zim.

While there is no one single party that can solve the rising safety-risk issue by itself, the chamber said its members acknowledge that they have to improve delivery on safety commitments.
“They understand that failure to do so will inevitably damage the industry’s reputation in the eyes of key stakeholders,” said Zim.

Four years ago, mining-industry executives committed themselves to achieving a workplace target of zero fatalities and zero injuries.

And while this appeared to have some impact over the year that followed, with the fatality rate reduced by 12% in 2004 and by a further 16% in 2005, the rate was flat in 2006 when 199 miners lost their lives—and judging by the fatalities and accidents reported this year to date, 2007 does not look any better.

According to statistics from the Mine Health and Safety Council, there were 213 deaths at all South African mines in the 12 months to the end of July, compared with 197 in the corresponding period a year ago, when almost 11 000 fewer miners were employed. - Reuters, I-Net Bridge

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