Johannesburg, South Africa — 15 March 2012 – South African courts will increasingly act as arbiters for disputes over safety-related mine closures, as more mining firms are expected to seek legal recourse against the increase in Section 54 stoppages issued by the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate.
Miningmx reports that the interim order granted in favour of Northam Platinum by the Labour Court this week to have a Section 54 instruction set aside comes notwithstanding the near-conclusion of an investigation by Migdett – a task team comprising industry, labour and government representatives “’ into the possible unfair and inconsistent application of Section 54 stoppages by the mining inspectorate.
Platinum production has been hit particularly hard by Section 54 notices, with South Africa’s platinum group metals output falling 19.5% year-on-year in January, according to data issued by Statistics SA.
Northam brought the application for an urgent interdict following a safety audit last week in which the company was issued a Section 54 notice to close the mine. The Labour Court provisionally ruled in the employer’s favour and gave the Department of Mineral Resources until March 27 to submit replying affidavits. Northam will again have until April 20 to respond to the department’s affidavits.
Warren Beech, a partner at legal firm WebberWentzel who specialises in health, safety and environmental aspects, says the application by Northam Platinum is indicative of the growing frustration over the number of Section 54’s being issued, particularly in North West, and possibly the lack of progress in the constructive engagement process with the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate.
“A dual approach is necessary, namely constructive engagement with the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate and an approach to the courts to obtain clarity and assistance with the implementation of comprehensive systems to continuously improve health and safety,” Beech suggests.
Frans Barker, senior executive at the Chamber of Mines, said the body would continue to engage the inspectorate by means of the Migdett task team, but that individual Chamber members could not be prevented from following their rights by approaching the courts.
Chief inspector of mines David Msiza was not immediately available for comment.
Mines minister Susan Shabangu is due to address the media next week on health and safety issues.
Source: Miningmx. For further details click here.