Minister concerned at mine safety report findings

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pretoria - A mine safety audit report detailing the high number of injuries and fatalities in South Africa's mines each year has been released by the Department of Minerals and Energy.

The Minister of Minerals and Energy Buyelwa Sonjica expressed serious concern at the gaps in the safety standards in the mining industry.

In the past three years, unsafe working conditions have led to the death of 200 mine workers annually, in addition to the almost 5 000 people who are injured annually.

Many of these injuries are so severe that limbs need to be amputated which leads to a significant reduction in standards of living and ability to earn an income.

"If one looks at the statistics, they do not paint a particularly rosy picture of the state of affairs in this important sector of our economy," said Ms Sonjica, reacting to the report, which was released by the department at the request of the Presidency in Pretoria on Monday.

Former President Thabo Mbeki ordered a countrywide health and safety audit of mines to determine the level of compliance with health and safety legislation after an incident in which 3 200 workers were trapped underground for 42 hours in October 2007.

The overall health and safety score achieved by the South African mining industry was 66 percent, taking into consideration a number of categories which the audit was conducted under.

"The mining industry has achieved an overall score of 66 percent compliance with the relevant requirements of the Mine Health and Safety Act. These audits have indicated that there are a lot of gaps in the safety standards in the mining industry," the minister highlighted.

Five mining sectors were audited including gold, platinum, coal, diamond and other smaller mining activities.

In terms of Occupational Health and Safety, the mining industry scored a dismal 59 percent compliance, while also scoring only 56 percent for health risk management, while public health and safety in mines received 65 percent compliance.

The highest score across the industry overall was for legal appointments in the industry which came in at 75 percent compliance.

Singling out particular mining sectors, the diamond sector scored a low 47 percent compliance with health risk management regulations. The gold industry also scored a dismal 53 percent compliance when it came to health risk management.

"Employers have to ask themselves if particular establishments have achieved 80 percent compliance, what then are the implications for the workers in the workplace who are drilling a stope face, a tunnel, or removing blasted rock.

"South Africa is the oldest mining country in the world, and health and safety regulations and standards should have been perfected a long time ago. We [as the departement] are not very happy with the state of affairs," the minister said.

Following the release of the report, Ms Sonjica said the department would focus on the upkeep and maintenance of mining infrastructure and the training and education of mineworkers to know what to do in life threatening situations.

General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Frans Baleni told media they were happy with the release of the report, saying it was long overdue. "Safety is a constitutional right for every single worker in the mining industry and we will be studying the report and making the appropriate recommendations."

President of the South African Chamber of Mines Sipho Nkosi highlighted that they too were pleased with the release of the report and that the matter of safety at mines was a critical one and would be taken seriously.

"Our Mine Health and Safety Council will deal with the recommendations of the report," Mr Nkosi said.