Minerals and energy
minister Buyelwa Sonjica
 
Pretoria, South Africa — MINGREVIEW.COM — 03 February 2009 – The long-awaited mine safety audit of South African mines has underlined a disappointing level of performance by the industry as a whole, triggering serious government reservations about the situation.

Releasing the findings of the safety audit here, minerals and energy minister Buyelwa Sonjica revealed that South African mines had scored a “concerning” 66% in a safety audit. “This should be of serious concern to all in mining,” she said. “Yes, it’s an important matter. It is about the lives of people, and we are still not happy with the state of affairs.”

The audit was ordered by former President Thabo Mbeki following an October 2007 incident in which 3 200 workers were trapped underground for 42-hours.

Fin24 quoted the minister as saying that gold mines had not done well on health risk management, scoring only 53%. “We think health and safety is a responsibility and obligation to all,” she said.

Mines scored 70% on mine design, while mine explosives control came in at 70%. However, diamond mines scored a "very low" 47%.

A total of 335 mines underwent the audit. The minister would not name the mines that fared the worst.

She pointed out that the audit had not covered negligence. “The terms of reference didn’t include inquiries on whether there was negligence,” she said.  The industry had set standards, but she was concerned that “we are still far away from those standards.”

Referring to what action would be taken to enforce safety compliance, the minister said that penalties were in place, but that they were very soft, and needed to be strengthened.

Sonjica said the industry had improved by 24% in safety statistics last year, with 168 deaths recorded compared to 220 in 2007. She added that government would co-operate with the industry to implement the recommendations of the audit, which included health and safety training of workers, massive investments for sustainability and follow-up audits.

Chamber of Mines president Sipho Nkosi said the chamber welcomed the release of the report.

“Although the chamber has not yet studied the report, and therefore cannot comment fully, it takes matters of safety very seriously,” said Nkosi. “South Africa needs a safe mining environment,” he added.

National Union of Mineworkers general secretary Frans Baleni said his union was pleased with the release of the report. “Safety is a very, very important constitutional right of each and every worker. We have only just received the report, we will study it then make pronouncements,” he added.