Mine audit shows low safety compliance
Results of a nationwide safety audit of South African mines were “worrying” because they showed a low level of safety compliance, a top government mining official told Parliament on Wednesday.
South African President Thabo Mbeki ordered the mine safety audit in October following a series of mine accidents.
“We’ve been doing this presidential audit and the results will be out soon and they are worrying,” Thabo Gazi, the chief inspector of mines at the Department of Minerals and Energy, told MPs during a briefing on a new mine safety Bill.
“They are really worrying because generally levels of compliance in our industry are low,” Gazi said.
Gazi said the audit, which targeted 333 high-risk and targeted mines, was close to being finalised and was expected to be handed over to Mbeki in mid-July.
The audit was ordered by Mbeki after an accident last year trapped 3 200 workers at Harmony Gold’s Elandsrand mine underground for close to 48 hours.
The incident highlighted mine safety issues, coming after a string of fatal accidents that, according to Gazi, has now reached a “plateau” of about 200 fatalities a year after declining from 1 000 deaths a year in 1987 to 500 in 1997.
The new Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill, still to be debated in Parliament and signed by Mbeki before becoming law, seeks to improve safety by strengthening enforcement.
It proposes raising non-compliance fines to R1-million from R200 000, and sets timelines for mines to conduct their own accident investigations, with reports to be handed over within 30 days of an accident.
Gazi acknowledged these investigations could be controversial as mines might be loathe to incriminate themselves and expose companies to liability.
“The intention here is not to force people to incriminate themselves ... We simply want to learn from the many accidents that are happening in the industry,” Gazi said, adding that many of the thousands of accidents repeated past mistakes.
He said these company-produced accident reports would not be used as a basis for legal action against employers.
Buck stops with companies
South Africa Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica is on record as saying the “buck for health and safety in the mines has to stop with top management of the mining companies”.
South Africa, a major producer of gold and platinum, suffered more deaths in mines last year than the year before, prompting the government to temporarily shut down mines whenever the deaths occurred, reducing mining output.
The National Union of Mineworkers staged an unprecedented one-day industry-wide strike to force companies to focus on safety in a country with the world’s deepest mines.
The government said mine-worker deaths rose 11% last year to 221 from 2006, the first jump since 2002, as mine workers were killed by rockfalls, explosions or buried underground during earth tremors.—Reuters.