SA to release mine safety report 'soon'

South Africa has completed a nationwide safety audit of mines in the world’s largest producer of precious minerals, and a report on its findings will be released “soon”, an official said on Thursday.

President Thabo Mbeki ordered an audit of all mines in Africa’s biggest economy, which is the world’s top source of platinum and second-largest gold producer, after a spate of deaths and accidents.

The safety audit was launched last December, and 355 mines were checked for safety violations, said Thabo Gazi, head of the mining safety and health unit at the Department of Minerals and Energy Affairs.

He declined to say when the report would be made public or whether it had been presented to Mbeki yet. Nor did he discuss any of its recommendations, which Mbeki is expected to act upon.

Companies fear that if they are required to make big changes to the way they mine it may lead to increased costs.

“It’s been completed and is to be released soon, but I can’t say when,” Gazi told Reuters. “I can’t comment on that,” he said when asked if Mbeki had seen the report.

Mbeki ordered the probe after the country was shocked by an accident which trapped 3 200 workers at Harmony Gold’s Elandsrand mine for close to two days last October.

In June, Gazi told a parliamentary committee that the results of the safety audit were “really worrying” because they showed a low level of safety compliance.

The high incidence of mine deaths last year spurred the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to a one-day unprecedented safety strike, which halted all mines and hurt output.

Authorities have also resorted to shutting down operations temporarily after fatal accidents to allow for investigations and enforce improved safety measures before mining resumes.

The deaths also prompted a review of the country’s mine safety laws.
The new Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill seeks to improve safety by strengthening enforcement and raising fines for non-compliance. The Bill is being debated in Parliament before being passed and signed into law by Mbeki.

South Africa experienced 221 mine deaths last year, up from 200 in 2006. By June this year, 85 workers had lost their lives. - Reuters

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