Mine Health and Safety Council Annual Report 2008/09, Adoption Committee Report: illegal mining

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Mineral Resources and Energy

17 November 2009
Chairperson: Mr F Gona (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chief Inspector of Mines presented his report on the annual activities of the Mine Health and Safety Council. The context and background of mine health and safety was described, from the Coalbrook disaster of 1960 up to the present. The Mine Health and Safety Act was promulgated in 1996. The Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) was established in 1997 and it had gradually been strengthened. After a summit had been convened, the rate of mine fatalities had begun to decrease. The MHSC’s capacity had been increased by the filling of all vacancies and this too had something to do with the drop in fatality rates as it had been able to consolidate its oversight mechanisms, and expand more into health aspects and cover medical conditions and hearing loss. There had been an unqualified annual audit by the Auditor-General (AG). Annual mining fatalities had dropped to under 200 per year, but this was still too high. Fall of ground comprised the highest cause of death, followed by transportation accidents, but other health issues were also of concern. MHSC’s mandate also included research and advice to the Minister, overseeing regulation and liaising with all other bodies concerned with health and safety issues in the mining industry. It was focusing on research and best practice and the development of a pervasive culture of health and safety. It also focused on education, with development of various booklets, including those that catered to the illiterate population, and booklets and videos for trainers.

Members stressed that the reduction in fatalities at mines was a priority for Parliament, and the Committee was still concerned that there were too many accidents and fatalities. They asked if global warming had an effect on the falls, asked for more specific breakdowns of some of the statistics, and pointed out that rock-falls had been happening for years without any apparent progress on the research and prevention. Members commented that the Council for Geoscience had stated that certain research techniques could be applied, and there were also Japanese models in use, and asked why these were not being used more by the MHSC, why the research bodies did not seem to be consolidating their research and reports, and why nothing had been achieved to date. The Committee wondered if lack of funding was a cause, and suggested that if this was so, then perhaps consideration should be given to taxing mining companies a certain percentage of profits to pay for specific and dedicated research.

They were also concerned as to why old machinery was still being used and pointed out that there was probably a need to strengthen the enforcement powers in the legislation. Members also questioned the comments of the Auditor-General on lack of effective controls, and problems around the audit committee, including non-attendance at meetings, and asked what had been put in place. Members also asked whether the date of 2013 was projected as the date on which silicosis would be wiped out. The Chairperson stated categorically that the Portfolio Committee was not happy with the situation prevailing at present and asked that all the bodies concerned should be planning, reviewing and reworking the processes.

The Committee adopted its draft Report on the oversight visit to illegal mines, noting that the problem was wider than it had first seemed, involving syndicates, and therefore stretching across various clusters, as issues of theft, extortion, murder and illegal migration had also been raised.

Meeting report

Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) Annual Report 2008/09
Mr Thabo Gazi, Chief Inspector of Mines, Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) initiated the presentation on the Annual Report for the year 2008/09.

By way of context, he explained that after the Coalbrook disaster of 1960, in which 435 miners were killed, there was some history leading up to the implementation of safety measures in mining. The Leon Commission was established in 1995, and the promulgation of the Mine Health and Safety Act (the Act) followed in 1996. This Act was amended in 2003 and again in 2008. The Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) was established in 1997 and it had gradually been strengthened, and subsequent initiatives were introduced concerning safe and healthy workplaces. He was pleased to be able to report that a MHSC summit had occurred, whereafter the rate of mine fatalities had begun to descend. He suggested that the filling of all posts on the MHSC had increased the capacity of the Council, and he felt that the decrease in fatalities owed something to this, as the Council had been able to consolidate and finalise its structures and oversight mechanisms. As a consequence the MHSC was able to expand its activities further into the health aspect of mining to cover asbestosis or silicosis and hearing losses.

At a meeting in 2003, it had been decided that over a ten year period ending in 2013, great changes in mining would take place. He was pleased to say the MHSC was moving steadily in that direction, and there was now sufficient capacity to have a divisional approach. Further, he was pleased to be able to report that there had been an unqualified annual audit by the Auditor-General (AG).

Ms Pontsho Maruping, Chief Executive Officer, Mine Health and Safety Council, then presented the Annual Report in more detail. She explained that mining activities in Southern Africa had a long history during which little attention was paid to mining fatalities until the Coalbrook disaster, in which 435 miners died. Subsequently there were many interventions, in which priorities had been established. There was a move to a more active concentration on mine safety in a holistic way. She was thus pleased to state that the annual mining fatalities were now at less than 200 per year. This may well be considered an improvement, but she hastened to add that until there was a zero fatality rate, no one would be satisfied.

Slide 5 reflected that fall of ground, comprising 41% of accidents, remained the biggest cause of mining fatalities, followed by transportation accidents at 29%. She added that formerly fall of ground incidents had occurred mainly in the gold mines, but such incidents were now appearing in the platinum mines as well. However, there were also deaths which were not occupational specific, and as such were a cause of great concern. However, the MHSC was also concerned with health in general, and especially silicosis and hearing loss, and although the numbers of claims were reducing the number of incidents were increasing. She noted that, as set out in Slide 9, the mandate of the MHSC included advising the Minister on all occupational health and safety issues in the mining industry relating to legislation, researching and promotion, reviewing and developing legislation for recommendation to the Minister; promoting health and safety in the mining industry, overseeing research and liaising with all other bodies concerned with health and safety issues in the mining industry.

In brief, she submitted that the vision of the MHSC was to have a regulatory framework and climate that produced safe and healthy working conditions for mineworkers and communities affected by mining. Its main mission was then to facilitate sustained improvement of occupational health and safety at mines through focused research and guidance on best practice, effective policy advice and legislation, and the development of a pervasive culture of health and safety.

Mr Gazi then drew the attention of the Portfolio Committee to the presentation pack, which contained a variety of examples of the work of the MHSC. It produced comic-type booklets in four languages advising the miners of how to improve their health through avoiding dangerous activities over a wide spectrum of activity. He submitted that the booklets were suitable for use by the trainers in the classes offered at the mines to the miners, to reinforce their obligations to themselves. Such booklets were part of the R54 million that had been allocated for health and safety training and R4.2 million for Training the Trainers. The presentation pack also contained an example of the DVD utilised.

The Chairperson pointed out that for Parliament the reduction in fatalities at mines was a priority, and had been outlined in the State of the Nation Address (SONA). Parliament intended to make a difference to the lives of the ordinary persons on the ground. The Chairperson asked about the capacity of the MHSC and its inspectorate to enforce Health and Safety in mines.

Ms F Bikani (ANC) expressed concern that despite all the statements that had been presented to the Portfolio Committee, there had been a major hole developing in a platinum mine, with several deaths resulting. She wondered whether global warming had an effect on this.

Ms Maruping said that there was no direct collaboration between global warming and the increased incidences of rock falls in platinum mines. However, global warming and climate change were being encompassed into the ongoing research. Perhaps these would be identified in due course. She added that in the gold and platinum mines, there was no constant environment, but it was dynamic, and hence made anticipation of rack falls difficult.

Ms Bikani expressed satisfaction that the possible effect of global warming on mining activity was being considered. She asked whether a further or deeper breakdown of the causes of fatalities, as set out on page 12, could be provided.

Ms Bikani referred to the publications mentioned on page 14, and she wanted to know what efforts were made to assist those who could neither read nor write.

Ms Maruping said that for illiterate people the publications had been composed in comic form, and there were also road shows and industrial theatre productions to convey the message

Ms Bikani asked why neither the MHSC, the Department of Labour nor the Department of Mining seemed to have no implementation powers in regard to the old machinery that was mentioned as still in use, in the Report.

Mr Gazi replied that global warming was not a prima facie cause of the rock falls, but was not discounted either. As regards the old machinery there was presently no legislation with teeth forcing the mine owners to renew the machinery, and the current financial climate made it even more likely that too little attention would be given to this issue. He reminded the Portfolio Committee that MHSC concentrated upon health and safety, and that operational safety was merely an adjunct to the MHSC. Investigations, often by other parties, gave rise to the production of information. This would all then be assessed. If necessary the results of other parties’ research would also be turned by the MHSC into recommendations to the Minister. The question of old machinery was to be viewed in such a light. Recommendations had been forwarded to the Minister for regulations, and these were awaited.

Ms B Tinto (ANC) remarked that she had found the presentation to be very good, but was concerned about the findings by the Auditor General about the lack of effective controls or non-compliance.

Mr Gazi addressed the question of the MHSC complying with all the provision of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and pointed out that until 2003 the MHSC had not existed. Thereafter, for a while, it relied upon levies as a form of funding. However, it had been appreciated that such levies were a form of public funding and that stricter controls should be introduced. This had then been done, with the result that MHSC had not ever obtained a qualified audit. However, he conceded that there had been a lack of capacity in the past to deal with all matters fully. Because the MHSC now had a full staff complement this should no longer be a problem. In addition, the comment by the AG was merely a cautionary comment that improvements could be effected, not a qualification. However, the comments by the AG were taken seriously and this was being treated as a work in progress.

Ms Tinto also remarked upon the level of vacancies or non-attendance by the Council members at meetings, especially the Audit Committee.

Ms P Ngwenya-Mabila (ANC) said that the fall-of-ground mining fatalities had been occurring since 1960 without any real reduction in the numbers. She added that there were still too many deaths caused by rock falls, and wanted to know what the MHSC was doing about this.

Mr Gazi said he would reply but would be calling upon his team for assistance where necessary. With regard to the falling ground he said that occasionally, planning was a problem and the recent platinum mine disaster was an example of this. Poor planning was acknowledged to be the major cause. Associated with planning, was the question of training of the mine staff, the mine supervisors and the miners. He thought there should be wider recognition of the right to refuse to work in dangerous areas and that this should also be implemented by all the parties concerned. In addition, he suggested that a set of guidelines for refusal to work in dangerous areas should be drawn up and implemented. However, he questioned whether such a guideline was solely within the province of the MHSC.

Mr Navin Singh, Member of the MHSC Board, Regulatory Operations Officer, explained that research so far had revealed that rocks that were free from the remainder, had a lower temperature than the consolidated rocks, and there was ongoing training about such rocks and their propensities for the Mine management and the miners. However, seismic falls had not thus far been isolated, although techniques developed by Japan in forecasting earthquakes were being transferred to South Africa, so that further research could be done into their efficacy in the South African situation. He added that the mines themselves were concerned about rock falls and were undertaking a review of best practices, and transferring the knowledge gained from such reviews across the board, in an effort to reduce fatalities.

Ms J Ngele (ANC) expressed satisfaction with the gender make up of the presenters, and hoped that with a female Chief Executive Officer some good would be done.

Mr Poho (COPE) expressed concern about the membership of the Audit Committee; firstly as to whether it was wide enough, and secondly as to why so few members were marked as being present at meetings.

Ms Dinah Kgoele, Chief Financial Officer, MHSC, said that the problem with the Audit Committee had only been notified by the AG’s audit. Plans had been embarked upon to widen the Audit Committee membership, and to monitor membership and attendance more closely. Often, the employers’ representatives on such committees might leave their employment without a replacement being nominated. However, this was a work in progress.

Ms Ngele asked if the projected date of 2013 was a date by which silicosis should be wiped out, or whether 2013 was just the date by which new entrants to mining should not contract silicosis at the start of their mining work.

Ms Ngele also expressed her great concern about rock falls and the ensuing deaths.

Mr Navin Singh pointed out that the fatality rate from mining was dropping considerably, but steadily, and there was every hope for optimism. Every one concerned was working responsibly and sharing information on best practice

Mr Gazi added that there was a sharing of best practice, locally and intentionally

The Chairperson asked whether there was a plan to reduce fatalities or whether this had been achieved by sheer luck. He pointed out that slide 5 did not provide a breakdown of the causes of the fatalities. He  was of the opinion that this could be further delineated. He pointed out that the Council for Geoscience had recently reported to the Portfolio Committee, and had stated that seismic rock falls could be foretold, although today’s presentation seemed to contradict that information. He wanted collaboration between all interested parties so that the problem of fatalities from rock falls could be addressed immediately, and to achieve synergy and clarity among the service providers.

Mr Gaza stated that MHSC was collaborating with the Council for Geoscience and all other research bodies

Mr Navin Singh stated that rock falls could be broken down as follows: 44% were gravity induced, 8% were the result of strain breaking and 48% resulted from rock bursting. He stated that with gravity or static rock fall, there was a measure of success in prediction. However, with seismic activity, there was much less control. Japanese techniques were being introduced in an effort to forecast the events. This, however, had met with limited success so far.

The Chairperson asked whether funding was not perhaps the reason for a lack of progress. He suggested that yet another tax could be imposed on the rich mining companies, such as a certain percentage of their turn over, to fund research into rock falls. He felt very strongly that this research must be undertaken to end the fatalities from rock falls. He suggested that if the companies would not participate voluntarily, then legislation to compel them to do so should be passed.

Mr Gazi stated that the MHSC was collaborating with all other entities such as Council for Geoscience, but the mandate of MHSC was to ascertain the need, and then work toward solving it. It was not a question of funding,  or the Council for Geoscience being in opposition to MHSC. It was a fact that seismic events were very unpredictable, even for research.

The Chairperson stated that Council for Geoscience had stated that they were willing to research and the MHSC repeated their willingness also to do so. However, nothing eventuated, and so he asked the reason for the delay.

Mr Gazi stated that there was a need to compartmentalise the activities. Research could not be hastened unduly, as the maxim was true and more haste often led to less speed.

Mr Singh explained that all the research entities were sharing information and data as it became available and were also establishing best practice, which was then shared among all. As evidence of this, the figures for fatalities had already begun to decrease, but further progress depended upon awareness of the problem and of challenges among all parties, and training.

The Chairperson stated categorically that the Portfolio Committee was not happy with the situation. prevailing at present and he stated that all concerned should return to planning, and review and re work the processes.

Ms Ngele expressed the opinion that with regard to rock fall fatalities, not enough had been done to prevent deaths, and looked forward to the day when the Annual Report would reflect no fatalities from rock falls.

Other Committee business: Draft Report of the Committee on its oversight into illegal mining
The Chairperson tabled the final draft Report of the Portfolio Committee on its investigations into illegal mining. This report had been delayed because investigations had revealed that the problem was deeper than at first envisaged. He stated that it was obvious that this illegal mining was organized by syndicates, perhaps even overseas syndicates, and was not being done simply by unemployed persons seeking to make some income. For this reason, Interpol had been asked to assist. This illegal mining went further than the question of the mining itself, but also involved murder, theft, and money laundering. This was being considered by the Safety Cluster, and also needed to be investigated by bodies such as South African Police Service (SAPS), Departments of Home Affairs and International Relations.

Members adopted the Report.

The meeting was adjourned.



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