Mine Health and Safety Act: Implementation: Department of Mineral Resources Briefing & oversight visit discussions

NCOP Economic and Business Development

31 August 2009
Chairperson: Mr F Adams (Western Cape ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Mineral Resources briefed the Committee on the Implementation of the Mine Health Safety Act. The Department, having implemented the Mine Health and Safety Act for some ten years, had identified several gaps and challenges and had brought 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 noting that it had adopted a preventative and rehabilitative approach regarding Health and Safety. 

Members asked what the entrance requirements for small scale mining were and if mining companies could be held responsible for illnesses developed on mines. Members expressed concern that investigations only took place ten days after accidents occurred, because evidence was often lost. Members asked what mining houses’ culture in regard to safety and security issues, and to accepting liability for accidents, was, as many seemed to go to extraordinary lengths to defend matters in court. The Committee questioned whether the Department dealt with compensation and expressed its concern over the Department’s explanation that the entire process was very fragmented, leading to great difficulty in holding mining houses liable. Members asked about Illegal mining in general, and for statistics on this problem. Members also noted the lack of programmes to deal with illegal miners and mines in the Annual Reports of the Department. They asked whether reporting on diving incidents would be improved, and sought clarity on the different categories of accidents. Members were informed of the exit medical examinations, questioned the involvement of the unions, and were pleased that this was limited to communication, since there was clearly a need to better inform miners of their rights. They also questioned the problems suffered by communities living close to mines, who contracted illnesses caused by mine dust, and asked if it was possible to extend the compensation to miners who had worked in South Africa prior to 1994. They were also concerned with the provisions made in the Act for disabled miners, and asked how the Department would be ensuring compliance, particularly in respect of mines either employing illegal miners or operating without the necessary licenses. They asked why the research was undertaken by an Australian company, and what amendments were to be proposed to try to align the processes.

It was noted that the Committee did not have sufficient time to hear the presentation on the Minign Charter at this meeting.

Meeting report

Mine Health and Safety Act (the Act): Implementation: Department of Mineral Resources (DMR or the Department) briefing
Mr Thabo Gazi, Chief Inspector: Department of Mineral Resources briefed the Committee on the Implementation of the Mine Health and Safety Act. The Mine Health and Safety Act was promulgated in 1997 and hence the Department had 10 years to implement legislation, and was fully aware of the gaps and challenges. The legislation was fairly progressive and required employers to conduct risk assessment, and use a problem-centred approach. Where employers failed to comply, the legislation was very limited in the sanctions that could be applied.

Mr Gazi noted that there had been a downward trend in fatalities in the platinum sector generally, as the figures reflected closer alignment with international benchmarks.  With regard to Occupational Safety and injuries, there had been a 32% improvement regarding ‘fall-off-ground incidents. There were different compensation regimes involved and the Department needed to review the legislation in this regard. The implementation of the Mine Health and Safety Act had been judged according to what had amended after 10 years, and the failings could now be addressed by amendments that would use a problem-centred and risk-management approach. (see document)

Mr B Mnguni (Free State ANC) referred to the fatalities mentioned in the presentation regarding Occupational Safety, and asked what the entrance requirements were for safety in respect of small scale mining operators. 

Mr Gazi said that one had to look at the new legislation under the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (the MPRDA). Small mines had to have financial capability and technical capability. Mining inspectors were receiving guidance in this area of the work.

Mr Mnguni asked if mines could be held responsible for illnesses developed on mines, or if the Act could be amended to deal with the situation of deaths related to respiratory problems.

Mr Gazi said that the problem related to the fact that deaths only usually occurred some 8 to 10 years after respiratory illnesses occurred, and hence enough attention was not paid to this issue. The legislation had been amended to address exit medicals, to ensure that workers could not leave the mines without having to undergo an exit medical examination, which should pick up problems at an earlier stage. From the 30 May it had been declared illegal to allow miners to leave their employment without an exit medical examination.

Mr Mnguni asked why employers could commence investigations only ten days after an accident had occurred, because evidence was often lost. There was a need to address this.

Mr Gazi conceded that the 10-day period to start investigations was sometimes not practical and there was no value in the finalization of an investigation several years after an incident.

Mr K Sinclair (Northern Cape ANC) asked what the culture was amongst mine owners. He said that they would often go to extremes in legal battles to defend their cases, and wondered if this implied a particular mindset or culture.

Mr Gazi said that this was a problem, and its prevalence had encouraged the Department to develop work in the area of the culture related to mining bosses, with an Australian research agency.

Mr Sinclair asked for an explanation regarding compensation and the lack of liability of mines.

Mr Gazi said that the Department of Mineral Resources did not itself deal with compensation issues. Different departments regulated health and safety in South Africa. This complicated the whole issue of compensation, because  if companies were liable, evidence had to be produced, and this in turn necessitated the keeping of accurate records of service. The Department of Health and the Department of Labour were working on repealing the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act (ODIMWA
) completely.

Mr Sinclair asked what the current situation was with regard to asbestosis claims.

Mr Gazi said that the problem was being dealt with through rehabilitation programmes, and that asbestos mines no longer existed.

Mr Sinclair asked for statistics regarding illegal mining, pointing out that many mining houses were themselves using illegal miners.

Ms E van Lingen (Eastern Cape, DA), also asked about illegal mining, and expressed concern  that in annual reports on Mine Health and Safety, there were no programmes focusing on ‘Zama Zamas’.

Mr Gazi said that these were difficult questions, and the Department had no programmes in place to deal with the situation.  Law enforcement agencies needed to address this problem. Inspectors were scared because illegal miners were armed, and the situation was dangerous, as evidenced by the fact that police had been shot in Barberton. There was a need to strengthen the law enforcement agencies and to increase the penalties for these offences. Fines were currently only paid for trespassing. The Department was reviewing the legislation so that work could be done at a national level to deal with this issue.

Mr Sinclair asked if there were statistics regarding diving incidents.

Mr Gazi responded that the Department had located one inspector in Springbok, near the provincial office in Kimberley, to facilitate improved reporting about diving incidents.

Ms van Lingen said that a number of implementation initiatives were outlined in the presentation, but nowhere were time frames provided for the implementation.

Mr Gazi said that guidelines for implementation were in the Department’s implementation plans, and these were scheduled for April 2010.

Ms Dipalesa Mokoboto, Medical Inspector: Department Mineral Resources, returned to the question of whether mining houses would be held responsible for the deaths of miners. She noted that information was sorely lacking. Many employees were not aware that their lung samples would be taken for pathological examination after death. It was only after these examinations that diseases such as silicosis were found. Employers could then be held liable for these deaths. However, many miners were not even aware that they were entitled to the benefit of medical examinations, and could be compensated for illnesses they contracted on the mines.

Mr Gazi added that the Department would be running programmes to popularise exit medical examinations.

Mr A Nyambi (Mpumalanga ANC) asked if the data currently presented in slides 4 and 5 could be reflected in one graph, showing the exact number of people employed in 2003 as compared with the number of people employed in 2009.

Mr Gazi said that the employee numbers reflected in the Annual Reports showed that there was a total of 485 000 employed in the industry in 2003, and 512 000 employed in the industry in 2008. If there was an increase in the employee numbers, there would be a decline in the graph line showing “fatality rates per million hours worked”. The figures in the graphs may not change substantially even if the employee figures were introduced into the equation.

Mr Mnguni said that the TEBA Group Employee Benefits Association would now be informing miners of their rights, and this was not the case with black unions during apartheid. He asked if the records of those miners who worked before 1994 in South Africa could be obtained, and if the legislation could be amended to allow for their compensation.

Mr Gazi said that the Department had had a meeting with Teba,  who had expressed the desire for collaborative efforts regarding exit medical examinations. The Department’s view was that the amendment last year addressed this matter and it simply had to be properly implemented to ensure the protection of those workers.

Mr Mnguni asked how trackless mining was done. 

Mr Gazi said that he did not speak about trackless mining, but had referred to Trackless Mobile Machinery, and the accidents caused by this mechanism. The entire design of the mine had to be re-considered, given the injuries sustained by Trackless Mobile Machinery.

Mr Gamedi asked for clarification about the categories of  ‘general’, ‘miscellaneous’, and ‘other’ as they appeared in the slides.

Mr Gazi responded that ‘general’ it referred to slips and falls, or when something fell on to a miner. In the report those incidents were broken down into smaller subcategories, as there was a wide range of incidents that met that classification.  ‘Miscellaneous’ might refer specifically to diving aspects. ‘Other’ referred to accidents outside of gold, diamond, coal and platinum mining.

Mr Gamede asked how communities who lived in areas close to mines and experienced problems with mine dust could be assisted retrospectively through compensation. The effects on health of working on or living close to mines did not show immediately, and those communities had never been helped with regard to medical problems caused by mine dust.

Ms Ntokoza Nzimande, Chief Director: Mining and Mineral Policy, Department of Mineral Resources, said that there was constant engagement around monitoring those areas. The dust levels in those areas close to mines had been tested and revealed to be very high. The legislative interventions in this area had not been as strong as the Department would have hoped to accomplish. Since the beginning of last year the Department had embarked on using a certain technology and monitoring this quite closely. This technology involved covering the sand dunes with a mix of sand and clay, and planting sugar cane on top of them. The effectiveness of this technology in averting the mine dust problem could be assessed next year.

Ms Nzimande said that what had been observed in mining was that it is moving away from communities, with concurrent rehabilitation taking place. The Department was also using the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) tool to develop programmes such as building houses for mining communities. One major project involved partnering with the Department of Health and developing a clinic. The health records of all persons in the community were being looked at, and records were also accessed from other clinics in surrounding areas. This would allow for a thorough investigation, and illustrated that something was being done about the problem.

Mr Gamede asked about disabled miners and whether the law would provide for them to be compensated.

Mr Gazi said that at the Council Level, the advisory body to the Minister was currently developing guidelines to deal with disabled miners.

Mr Gamede asked how illegal miners managed to function on their own, and what the Act was planning to do about illegal buyers.

Ms Nzimande said that it seemed that this issue with ‘Zama Zamas’ had created the impression that illegal mining was a new phenomenon, whereas in fact this was not so, and it had already given rise to many fatalities in the past. The Department had recently experienced a case where a municipality had been supplied with sand from illegal sand mining activities. This might require that persons issued with construction tenders should produce a mining right for sand or hard rock quarry activities. The other side to these issues had to do with the criminal nature of such activities, which was something to be taken up by South African Police Service (SAPS). This was tied to the drive to bring about the amendments to the Act.

Ms Nzimande added that compliance was crucial in the mining industry, and was closely related to the issue of instilling a culture of health and safety. This was part of the broader transformation agenda. However, changing the mindset and imposing compliance needed long term interventions, and the Department was moving in this right direction.

Mr Sinclair raised the issue of compliance, and expressed concern and shock about a large mining company in Fish Hoek who were refusing to comply. These issues also implicated the Minister, who had failed to respond to questions about why a certain mine in Mpumalanga had continued to mine, despite the fact that they were not issued with a water licence.

Ms Nzimande said that the mine operating without a water licence was illustrative of how disjointed the system was, because, just as there was not a single body to regulate compensation, there was also not a single body to regulate compliance. The Department was currently working on the amendments that were necessary both in the MPRDA and National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). A decision had been  taken in 2007 to allow for one environmental system that related to NEMA.

Mr Sinclair asked if  these processes were not supposed to complement each other. He said it seemed that mining houses just ‘rolled’ over the Department, and once a mining licence was granted they neglected all the other processes, including health and safety requirements.

Ms Nzimande said that the legislation was being amended to ensure an alignment between processes.

Ms van Lingen expressed concern about exit medical examinations being passed on to the unions, which she felt was not appropriate. The responsibility should be taken care of by the Committee.

Mr Gazi said that unions were just being used as a channel for communication, because they had a deeper reach than the Department. The Department had less than 200 inspectors, so ‘reach’ was a problem. The unions were not being given the responsibility to regulate.

The Chairperson followed up on Ms van Lingen’s suggestion, saying that this Committee could request the Department to conscientise and publicise  the matter of exit medical examinations more vigorously.

The Chairperson asked why the Department had outsourced research to an Australian company.

Mr Gazi said that local companies tended to focus their research on behaviour-based safety, and the Department preferred a company who had experience in elevating the research also to the level of culture.

Mr Gamede asked when the clinic mentioned by Ms Nzimande, as part of the programme to deal with mine dust, would be built.

Ms Nzimande said that before she had left Pretoria in June, she had set up a working committee that was comprised of staff from the mine, staff from the Department of Mineral Resources, as well as the Department of Health. Ms Nzimande said she would be happy to follow-up with the regional manager in Durban, and report to the Committee on the progress of the clinic.

Mr Sibosiso Mimi, Representative of National Union of Mineworkers, said he felt pleased that there was now legislation in place to ensure that mining bosses would be held accountable, that fatalities and injuries on mines would be compensated for, and communities would be protected.

The Chairperson stated that the Committee had taken a decision to do oversight work mainly in the Northern Cape, specifically on the West Coast, and possibly in Limpopo and Mpumalanga. The Committee requested the Department to supply it with licensing applications for social and labour plans and with compliance applications.

The Chairperson apologised to the Department that the Committee would not have sufficient time, at this meeting, also to hear the second presentation scheduled, on the Mining Charter, and that it would have to be held over to a later date.

The meeting was adjourned


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