Underground mining –
to be protected
by stricter laws in
future
 
Cape Town, South Africa — MININGREVIEW.COM — 24 November 2008 – Parliament has approved new mine safety laws which enforce stricter penalties and hold mine CEOs criminally liable for deaths in some of the world’s deepest mines.
 
The South African mining industry – represented by the Chamber of Mines – has criticised as “too punitive” the new laws, which make provision for heavier penalties to be levied against companies, increasing fines from R200 000 to R1 million. The Chamber has also questioned the insertion of a criminal liability clause, allowing chief executives and managers to be prosecuted should they be found guilty of causing serious injury or deaths.

South Africa – the world’s number one platinum producer and top gold exporter – has a dire underground safety record and saw 221 mine deaths last year, up from 200 in 2006.

The high mine death toll has prompted government to temporarily shut down mining operations after any fatal accident, further reducing output in an industry already suffering from the effects of an ongoing power crisis.

Mine unions – which argued for higher penalties during public hearings discussing the bill – have recently stopped work at mines whenever a death occurred.

The new laws – which still have to be signed by President Kgalema Motlanthe before becoming effective – also made provision for mine accident investigations to be held within 10 days of an accident, and for a report to be completed within 30 days. Mine safety inspectors are empowered to enter any mine at any time, question persons and examine documents, and can shut down mines if there is non-compliance with safety instructions.

Meanwhile a top government mining official has told parliament that the results of a nationwide safety audit of South African mines were “worrying” because they showed a low level of safety compliance.
 
President Thabo Mbeki ordered the mine safety audit in October 2007, following a series of mine accidents.

“We’ve been doing this presidential audit and the results are worrying,” chief inspector of mines at the department of minerals and energy Thabo Gazi told MPs during a briefing on a new mine safety bill.