/ 29 April 2008

Minister: Safety at work a constitutional imperative

Working conditions that threaten the lives of mine workers flout the laws of the country, Minister of Minerals and Energy Buyelwa Sonjica said on Tuesday.

”Safety at work is a constitutional imperative that we all have to uphold,” she said at Anglo American’s Safety Summit in Johannesburg.

She said the health of mine workers was a collective responsibility between the state, employers and employees, but the primary responsibility for ensuring an environment conducive to good health and safety at the workplace remained with the employer.

Anglo American’s summit to map out ways to improve safety practices in the country’s mines followed a protest march by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in December last year.

Mine workers took to the streets following a number of mine accidents in which workers were killed.

In 2007, almost 250 miners died in mine accidents in South Africa.

Sonjica told the summit that she was concerned with the recurrence of the same type of accidents. She said fatalities had increased by 10% between 2006 and 2007.

”This is unacceptable and requires urgent action.”

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said his organisation hoped that Anglo American would implement the outcomes of the summit.

”We can only hope that Anglo will live up to the outcomes and inputs of this summit so that it does not just become a public-relations exercise,” he said.

”For many years, workers have perished underground and continue to do so. We had talks and talks, seminars, marches, workshops, conferences and summits, but the trick lies in the implementation.”

He said the NUM believed that until such time as the industry accepted full responsibility for the training of its workers and invested in proper safety equipment, the problems would persist.

”The industry must take a leadership role, they have a capacity to do so. They are just not prepared to do it,” he said.

Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll said at the summit on Tuesday that Anglo American had launched a series of initiatives to drive consistent safety messages and practices across their business.

”We held two summits in the past year and showed we are prepared to do what is necessary to meet this challenge head-on by shutting down mine shaft where safety performance has not been up to standards.”

Last year Anglo American recorded 40 deaths for the year, and 32 of those were at its South African mines.

Carroll said safety performance was showing improvement this year, with the number of fatalities at Anglo American mines in South Africa standing at about 10 against 17 a year ago. — Sapa