Minister raises concern over safety of miners

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rustenburg - The safety of miners came under the spotlight on Monday when Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu visited the site where nine mineworkers lost their lives.

Nine mineworkers died at Impala Platinum mine in Rustenburg, after being trapped underground following a rockfall in shaft 14. Ms Shabangu visited the underground site later in the day to inspect the conditions and circumstances under which the mineworkers died.

So far this year, 104 miners have died in South Africa's underground mines, of this number, 86 were illegal miners. In 2008, 168 miners died and 220 miners died in 2007.

Speaking to the SABC on Monday, the minister said fatalities in the mining industry could not and would not be tolerated.

"By virtue of having an accident, it is quite clear that there are challenges. You can't say that the safety standards are up to scratch. We have to revisit our own legislation. We have to revisit the accident that has occurred to find out exactly what is the situation and where did we go wrong.

"I must also indicate that some of these issues and laws are not static and they have to be responsive and they have to be proactive," said the minister.

She said if that was the extent of response that needed to be taken, then it would have to be considered.

"I'm not saying we are going to make an amendment immediately but if we have to go to that extent then we'll consider that," she said.

The minister said she would wait for investigations into the collapse of the shaft to be completed before deciding on what action needs to be taken.

All mining activity has been stopped at Impala Platinum to allow the department's inspectors to conduct their investigations.

"We intend to go into that particular area where the accident has occurred to investigate what the cause of the accident was and how did it happen, but also to look at the safety standards and whether the company had complied.

"We will take various aspects into cognisance, such as whether there were proper records kept ... whether when the shift started where there appropriate measures in place, and when did they identify that there was a problem and what the company did before the accident occurred." the minister said.

She said the inspectors would also have the responsibility of making sure that further accidents did not happen again at the company.

It is currently unclear what caused the rock fall in the shaft.

Former President Thabo Mbeki ordered a countrywide health and safety audit of mines to determine the level of compliance with health and safety legislation in October 2007.

The subsequent Mine Safety Audit Report, released in February, revealed the mining industry achieved an overall score of 66 percent compliance with the relevant requirements of the Mine Health and Safety Act.

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

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

Following the release of the report, the then Minister of Minerals and Energy, Buyelwa 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.

Meanwhile, Minister Shabangu further expressed her condolences to the families and loved ones of the nine workers who lost their lives.

A memorial service for the dead miners will be held on Friday.