Mine Health and Safety Act Implementation: Department's briefing, Oversight visit discussions

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Mineral Resources and Energy

25 August 2009
Chairperson: Mr F M Gona (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee Chairperson reported briefly on the recent oversight visit undertaken by the Committee and said that during this time there had also been on the Oversight Visit conducted by the Committee. The Committee noted its concern about the number of mining industry accidents, which were escalating instead of abating. Nine people had died in the explosion in Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal during the time of the oversight visit. There was clearly a need for interaction with the Department on the Mine Health and Safety Act. 

The Department of Mineral Resources provided some brief feedback on the methane ignition at the Springlake mine, and said that a full report would be available shortly. The Department, having implemented the Mine Health and Safety Act for some ten years, had identified several gaps and challenges and would be bringing some proposed amendments before the Committee. The legislation was fairly progressive and required employers to conduct risk assessment, and use a problem-centred approach, but was rather limited in the sanctions that could be imposed. The Department then outlined the main sections of the Act relating to health and safety, noting that the Department adopted a preventative approach using its Health and Safety Research programme of the Department.

Members asked who the workshops aimed to address, how ready the Department was to implement its proposals and how the budgeting compared to expenditure. Members felt that there was a need to attach timeframes and asked how research would be translated into action. Members asked for an explanation on the different diseases that were prevalent, especially tuberculosis, commented that “fall-off-ground” accidents were repetitive and indicative of the need for training, asked if exit medical examinations were conducted, and enquired as to rehabilitation of mining dumps, since these were contributors to disease. Members commented on the need for better enforcement of fining, asked about hearing loss, miners’ accommodation, declaration of workplaces as safe, and whether proper training records were being kept. Members asked what was being done about the empty hostels, whether proper records were kept of pre-operation inspections, how risk was being assessed, who was undertaking the research, and what was being done about the legislation around occupational diseases and compensation. The role of the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) in developing systems for maintaining training records, and facilitating training and qualifications was outlined, and the Committee was assured that the Department was ensuring that systems were in place for proper communication. Members also asked about international trends, how the levies to fund the research were charged, questioned whether it would not be useful to base them on a percentage of profits, and questioned the relationship between the Department and the mining houses in some sectors. Members also asked why some of the sections of the Act were to be amended, and asked when this was likely to happen, and also asked for quantification of the required funding for research.  The Department said that it could bring the amendments to the Committee by the end of September.

Meeting report

Oversight Visit report
The Chairperson expressed appreciation to the Members who had been on the oversight trip, and thanked them for their help and co-operation. He also thanked the Department of Mineral Resources (the Department) and the mining companies who had been visited, noting that they had not been hostile in any way. When the oversight visit report was formally tabled, the Committee would be able to engage with and discuss it in a more holistic way.

The Chairperson said that all Members were aware of and equally concerned about the numbers of mining industry accidents, which were escalating instead of abating. Nine people had died in the explosion in Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal during the time of the oversight visit. The Committee had allowed the Department to deal with that situation at that time, but, based on all the current accidents, there was clearly a need for interaction on the Mine Health and Safety Act (the Act) with the Department. The Committee appreciated that the Department was still very new, and that the separation of Mineral Resources from the former Department of Minerals and Energy would be completed only by the end of August. However, the Committee wanted to see what measures were in place to deal with the scourge of fatalities and injuries, and to what extent the Act was being properly implemented.

Department of Mineral Resources (the Department) briefing on recent accidents and implementation of Mine Health and Safety Act
Mr Thabo Gazi, Chief of Staff, Department of Minerals Resources, first provided the Committee with brief feedback on the methane ignition at the Springlake mine, in which 18 mine workers were involved. There was an investigation under way to understand what lead to the ignition, as initial reports stated that there was blasting, but this was found to be incorrect. One miner involved was severely burned, and had subsequently died. The other seventeen employees had recovered fully. As a result of this, the Department felt there was a need to review the legislation and strengthen the sanctions to force the mineral sector to comply with legislative requirements. The Mine Health and Safety Act was promulgated in 1997, and in the following ten years the Department had seen to its implementation and had identified some gaps and challenges. The legislation was fairly progressive and required employers to conduct risk assessment, and use a problem-centred approach. However, where employers failed to comply, the legislation was very limited in the sanctions that could be applied.

Mr Gazi briefed the Committee on the implementation of the Mine Health and Safety Act. The important areas of Health and Safety were outlined, including a review of the statistics for Occupational Safety in the mines since 2007. The key amendments to the Act were presented, as well as the Health and Safety research strategy of the Department. The Department had adopted a preventative approach using the Health and Safety Research programme of the Department, in its strategic approach to avert the problems experienced with diseases such as silicosis and tuberculosis.

Mr David Mziza, Deputy Chief Inspector, Department of Mineral Resources, briefed the Committee on areas of Health and Safety performance, as set out in the attached document.

Ms F Bikane (ANC) asked if the workshops mentioned in the slide presentation were for the miners. She also asked about the occupational services mentioned in the plans, and how ready the Department was to implement the Act in terms of infrastructure. Ms Bikane asked further if budgeting was in line with medium-term expenditure.

Mr Msiza said that the Department was striving to encompass every employee in attendance of workshops, including some of the officials. The workshop’s aims were also accomplished through inspections and audits. Inspectors were encouraged to go to the mines, to engage with the workers beyond issues of enforcement, and to inform them of the current accident trends, health trends, and also legislative changes. 

Ms Bikane said that there were no time frames attached to research work, and asked how critical it was for the Department to keep to its programme.

Mr Gazi said that research work was conducted by research organisations, such as the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research and universities.  The Department regularly reviewed the work being done by researchers and implemented what was learned through the research.

Ms Bikane asked if the programme of action was aligned to the budget, and whether the budget was approved. She again expressed concern about the workshop and who it was going to address, and asked further whom the Act sought to protect in its implementation.

 Mr Gazi said, in regard to the programme of action and the capacity of the Department to implement, that mining employment was cyclical and this did influence how the Department proceeded with its programmes.

Ms N Mathibela (ANC) said that there was an increase in the rates of tuberculosis (TB) and asked if TB was contracted inside the mines, or if miners came to the mines having already contracted the disease outside.

Mr Msiza replied that the challenge of TB was the legacy of mining in South Africa. This was especially the case with regard to gold mines, where most of the employees were staying in hostels with five persons in a room. The spread of TB had a lot to do with living conditions. With the promulgation of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), the Department was trying to rectify this challenge.

Ms Mathibela said that by now measures should be in place to avoid ‘fall-off-ground’ incidents in mines.

Mr Msiza said that the Department was still dealing with the reasons for the repeated occurrence of ‘fall-off-ground’ accidents, through the Mine Health and Safety Council which dealt with health and safety. The current legislation was also in the process of change, in an attempt to influence the culture.

Mr Gazi added that most ‘fall-off-ground’ injuries and deaths occurred between 09:00 and 10:00, and this alerted the Department to the fact that early morning examinations were not being done properly. This powerful message related to training and helped explain why the Culture Project referred to by Mr Msiza was a very good way to address health and safety. The Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) training programme aimed to train 4 000 health and safety representatives. MQA qualifications were very important to contain and help to prevent the scourge of health and safety injuries.

Ms H Mathebe (ANC) asked if miners were always given the exit medical examination when they left the mines.

Mr Gazi said that exit medical examinations were a problem, especially when there were strikes, after which many workers did not return to the mines. The legislation was addressing this issue. Mines ran their own hospitals and clinics, and were therefore well resourced to implement that specific requirement of the Act.

Ms Mathebe asked if asbestos mine dumps were still in existence, pointing out that these could cause silicosis, and ultimately death.

Mr Gazi replied that the Department continued to deal with this problem through rehabilitation of the dumps. The rehabilitation at mines that had been derelict would take a long time, and how fast it could progress depended on the Department accessing money to deal with rehabilitation. Diseases like asbestosis were priority areas, and were dealt with under the Mineral Regulation branch of the Department, which was responsible for rehabilitation.

Ms Mathebe asked if contracts with owners of mines could include issues relating to fines, because at present many mine owners were doing as they pleased.

Mr Gazi said that the Department was busy developing enforcement guidelines to cover how fines were issued and also how licenses were issued, because under the MPRDA, a company’s ability to comply with health and safety requirements was very important. 

Mr E Lucas (IFP) expressed concern about the causes of death in mines and said that what was of particular concern was that there seemed to be no improvement in the situation.

Mr Lucas asked if hearing loss was linked to mobile machinery accidents.

Mr Gazi said that there were systems in place to assist the Department to deal with problems of hearing loss.

Mr Lucas asked if the situation regarding Staff Mine Inspectors was improving.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) asked what miners were covered for in terms of their ‘workplace’ accommodation and conditions of service. She did not see where and how the Act accommodated them. Ms Mushwana also asked if something could be done about the Act to cover all people involved in accidents.

Mr Gazi apologised to the Committee for not including the legend with the graphs in the presentation, and explained what each of the graphs represented. He said that in regard to  accommodation, it was very critical to look at the worker as a whole, but that this matter was regulated through the MPRDA. The important question was whether something could be done with the legislation to address this question. The Act was promulgated in 2004, and within five years the Minister was supposed to issue a guideline on housing or accommodation. This was done earlier this year, and the guideline provided a framework or standard for how mines must provide accommodation for workers.

Mr Gazi said that the reason for the hesitancy of the Department was due to issues around the Parliamentary process. Regulation 14 of the Act, dealing with the declaration of workplaces, required certain miners to be trained to declare working places safe. This declaration needed to be recorded. The question related specifically to the Impala Mine issue, and that was what the Department would pursue in the investigation and enquiry. There were legislative provisions to deal with this issue and it had been recorded. 

Ms Mushwana asked when the proposed amendments that the Department had mentioned could be brought before the Committee for deliberations.

Mr Gazi replied that the Department had made it clear in its plan that the amendments should be brought before Parliament this year. The Department was just signaling its intention that the amendments had been prepared. After this meeting all the relevant documents would be submitted. 

Ms L Moss (ANC) expressed concern about the issue of training records, and companies not providing training plans for better monitoring. The Department of Labour should be engaged on this matter, to ensure that health and training were taken more seriously. There was a need for information about the different kinds of training available, and for proper record keeping.

Mr Gazi said that training had to be linked to having proper systems in place. The Department was working with the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA), which was busy developing a proper system that would be linked to the system at the Department. This would allow for proper management of training. While the Act required training to be done, both the standards for the training and the facilitation of the training were done by the MQA; which was governed both by the Mine Health and Safety Act and the Skills Development Act.  Effectively a system was developed so that on an annual basis mines were required, by the Skills Development Act, to submit their Workplace Skills Plan to the MQA.  At the end of the year mines had to submit their Annual Training Report (ATR). This procedure was in place. There was, however, still a problem in getting different systems communicating with each other. The required linkages had been developed and were now in place. In a future meeting with the Committee, he would indicate that all the required systems were in place and working.

Ms F Mathibela (ANC) said that it was pure negligence that companies were not keeping records.

Mr H Schmidt (DA) asked if the Department could take the Committee through the different diseases prevalent in mines.

Mr Msiza said that the Occupational Diseases were: noise induced hearing loss, silicosis, and asbestosis, cardio-respiratory diseases like TB, pulmonary TB, and silica TB. Pneumoconiosis (PN) was the disease prevalent at coal mines.

Mr Schmidt said there seemed to be a difference between transport and mining, and machinery-’ related incidents. He asked what kind of mining was involved in these matters.

Mr Msiza said that there was a difference between transport and mining, and machinery. Transport and mining was used to describe incidents involving and related to vehicles underground, especially in gold mines and rail bound transport.  Machinery-related incidents would refer to conveyer belt related incidents, and tools as well.

Mr Schmidt asked what kind of incidents would fall in the ‘general’ category. 

Mr Msizi replied that the ‘general’ type of incidents were mainly ‘slip and fall’ type of material handling accidents, including a fall from height, and rolling materials. 

Mr Schmidt asked if ‘fall off ground’ incidents were due to a lack of proper supporting systems.

Mr Msiza said that one of the causes of ‘fall off ground’ accidents was poor examination at the work place. During the Department’s investigations it found that mine design might also be a challenge, including inspection by either the supervisors or managers. The type of support that was being used for some of the conditions also led to accidents, and sometimes inadequate support was also one of the underlying causes of other types of accidents.

Ms Moss asked why some of the blocks or hostels seen during the oversight visit, were standing empty, and asked who owned these structures.

Mr Gazi replied that most of those properties still belonged to the mines. This was an ongoing debate, because sometimes municipalities wanted those properties. The Department was currently busy with a project to investigate all the mines in the provinces, establish the ownership of the hostels, and what the plans were for those hostels.

The Chairperson said that in the introduction to the presentation, repeated mention was made of the legislative requirement for companies. He asked if records were kept of the pre-operation inspections which had to be carried out by mines, and who was liable if a problem occurred.

The Chairperson expressed concern about the continuing causes of accidents, and asked who was undertaking the research to investigate the situation, and who was funding this research.

The Chairperson asked the Department to react to a report in the newspaper on the previous day dealing with silicosis in the mines. The issue had to do with the provisions of the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act (ODIMWA)  where there were provisions in place for capping in terms of compensation. He asked further if there were plans in place to review ODIMWA, to assist in dealing with the matter.

Mr Gazi said that the ODIMWA and Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) issues had been discussed with the Minister recently. A structural policy problem existed, since compensation regimes were located in different departments in South Africa. The compensation system was a trade-off of rights type of system, where people would not be permitted to litigate against companies because they were guaranteed compensation under the Act. The biggest problem with the legislation currently was that there were limits or capping. This problem has been identified.  Currently the Department of Labour was amending COIDA and was doing away with ODIMWA.

Ms F Bikani (ANC) asked how research was done for the Department, and how the Committee benefited from the research. Ms Bikane asked further about the reporting systems that accompanied research, how they were monitored and how regularly they were monitored; and if these were bringing the Department any closer to resolving these issues.

Mr Gazi said research was conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which was a public entity. 

Mr Gazi added that Chapter 35 of the Regulations made provision for determining the risk levels of operations. A risk profile had been developed for mines on the basis of injuries sustained, and mines were then charged levies amounting to around R50 million per annum. This money was committed purely to research, and was managed by the Mine Health and Safety Council. The relevant matters would be addressed through the Department making recommendations for amendment of the legislation. The challenges included the sourcing of researchers and governance-related matters. Sufficient time was not spent on understanding the problem, and the Department was currently faced with how best to address this. 

On the question of reporting, Mr Gazi said that the Mine Health and Safety Council reported to the Department and met annually with the Committee. Some time this year the Committee would be engaging with the Council.

Mr Schmidt referred to Sections 86 and 90 of the Act, and asked for an explanation on these sections.  He asked why these two sections were again coming back to the Committee.

Mr Gazi said that the sections were effectively setting out accountability, and were stating that Chief Executive Officers, General Managers and Managers would be held accountable. The Act basically was taking out the issue of corporate liability in this country, but responsibility was always referred back to and rested upon the employer, to ensure that those who had a duty would need to account. 

Mr Schmidt asked further on what basis the sections were to be referred back to this Committee for consideration, whether it was basically a phraseology issue, or whether it involved new decisions in principle needing to be taken.

The Chairperson said that copies of the proposed amendments should have been issued with the slides, to assist with this issue.  Section 86(a) dealt with criminal liability and Section 90(1) dealt with penalties. Those were the controversial areas. The Department had indicated that it was ready to do the necessary amendments. The Committee would be pleased to receive those amendments in September. This matter had to be clarified with a constitutionally acceptable provision in the law.

The Chairperson asked the Department to comment on international trends in terms of fatalities, and how South Africa compared.

Mr Msiza explained the graph in the presentation showing the comparisons of international trends. (see document) The Department had targeted that it should at least reach levels comparable to the international trends. The black line in the graph showed the direction the industry was moving in. The green line was the international benchmark and the red line showed the levels in South Africa.

A Member asked if the R50 million received from levies was charged as a set percentage, or whether it was a voluntary contribution.

Mr Gazi said that the levies were not based on revenues, but were imposed purely for safety purposes, and they were not voluntary.

Mr Lucas asked how communication was structured between the Department and mining houses.

Mr Gazi said that communication differed between commodities. In the gold and platinum mining sector, there were serious issues regarding those relationships. 

The Chairperson referred to the slide dealing with the causes of accidents, and noted that the Committee must agreed on what were the most dangerous causes of accidents, and to prepare for proper engagement with the Council in terms of its research work. The Committee must act decisively to find the best way to reduce the number of incidents.

The Chairperson asked what silica TB was, and how it differed from pulmonary TB.

Mr Gazi said the Department might not be able to provide the full answer now, but during another engagement with the Committee a medical inspector would address those issues. In general, he explained that there was a linkage between TB and silicosis, but the silica dust tended to promote a different strain of TB. 

Ms Mathibela said that the Department should be proactive in keeping records, and that in future the figures should be clearly indicated in the graphs.

Mr Gazi said that the Department would do that, but it should be noted that it was involved in the mining of 35 commodities. 

The Chairperson said that when the Department came back after the formatting and planning stage, the Committee would want to speak to timelines that should be set to find preventative measures. There must be solutions found to accident fatalities and occupational disasters. The Committee would want to hear the contribution of the mining industry. The Committee would also look at whether it would be better to impose a percentage of revenue on mining companies as a contribution towards Health and Safety budgets, so that it could see what percentage of the money was used for preventative measures.

The Committee required the Department to quantify the required funding for research, as the intention was to look at international best practices with low rates of accidents and fatalities.

The Chairperson said that by September the Committee would need to see the proposed amendments, so that it could engage around the position to be taken, and would also allow for more engagement on other areas.  He asked if this was feasible.

Mr Gazi replied that September was too early, as everything was being prepared for the new financial year.

The Chairperson asked the Department then to name a reasonable time. He pointed out that the Fourth Parliament was to be an activist parliament, which meant that it 70% of the time was to be spent on oversight, and only 30 % of the time would be spent on the legislative process.

Mr Gazi said that actual implementation in the Department was scheduled for the beginning of April next year.

The Chairperson asked if this process could be speeded up, pointing out that accidents in mines were continuing as these discussions were taking place.

Ms Bikane said that the Department had told the Committee that the document was ready, and just had to be presented to the Committee.

Mr Gazi said that the legislation was ready. He suggested that it could be presented by the end of September.

The meeting was adjourned.


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