Cape Town, South Africa — MININGREVIEW.COM — 12 June 2008 – Results of a nationwide safety audit of South African mines – ordered by President Thabo Mbeki last October after a series of mine accidents – are “worrying” because they show a low level of safety compliance
Reuters quotes Thabo Gazi – chief inspector of mines at the Department of Minerals and Energy – as saying: “We’ve been doing this presidential audit, the results will be out soon, and they are worrying.” He was addressing MPs here at a briefing on a new mine safety bill. “They are really worrying because generally levels of compliance in our industryare low,” he confirmed.
Gazi said the audit – which targeted 333 high-risk mines – was close to being finalised, and was expected to be handed over to Mbeki in mid-July. The audit was ordered by Mbeki after an accident which trapped 3 200 workers at Harmony Gold’s Elandsrand mine underground for close to 48 hours.
Reuters reports that the incident highlighted mine safety issues, coming after a string of fatal accidents which – according to Gazi – had now reached a “plateau” of about 200 fatalities a year, after declining from 1 000 deaths a year in 1987 to 500 in 1997.
The new Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill – still to be debated in parliament and signed by Mbeki before becoming law – seeks to improve safety by strengthening enforcement.
The news agency reports that the Bill proposes raising non-compliance fines to R1 million from R200 000 rand, and sets timelines for mines to conduct their own accident investigations, with reports to be submitted within 30 days of an accident.
Gazi acknowledged these investigations could be controversial, but explained: “the intention here is not to force people to incriminate themselves … We simply want to learn from the many accidents that are happening in the industry.”
The Reuters report adds that South African minerals and energy minister Buyelwa Sonjica is on record as saying “the buck for health and safety in the mines has to stop with top management of the mining companies.”
South Africa suffered more mine deaths last year than in 2006, prompting the government to temporarily shut down mines whenever deaths occurred, thereby reducing mining output.
The National Union of Mineworkers staged an unprecedented one-day industry-wide strike to force companies to focus on safety in a country with the world’s deepest mines.