Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate Annual Report 2009/10: briefing; Committee Oversight Report and Third Term Programme

NCOP Economic and Business Development

01 August 2011
Chairperson: Mr F Adams (ANC Western Cape)
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Meeting Summary

The Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate reported that there had been a reduction in mine deaths, but challenges remained. These included record-breaking commodity prices together with diminishing gold ore reserves. This resulted in deepening of mine shafts and mining of shaft and remnant pillars. There was a legacy of poor health management. More miners died from respiratory diseases like tuberculosis than from accidents. Stepped up production had resulted in more deaths, especially in the platinum sector. There was a cultural legacy among mining companies of taking chances. This contributed to fall of ground deaths.

The  Inspectorate had engaged with organised labour, mine management and the Departments of Labour and Health. However, the Mine Health and Safety Act was hard to enforce, as the Inspectorate had to depend on what the mines told it.

Members expressed satisfaction with reduced fatalities, and sought information on various matters, without taking the Inspectorate to task about performance. There were questions and remarks about the persistence of asbestosis, even though asbestos mining had been curtailed, and the possibility of improving the prediction of seismic activity. A Democratic Alliance Member remarked that the mental health environment had also to be taken into account and referred to the persistence of hostel accommodation. Two Democratic Alliance Members had questions and remarks about the situation at Alexcor, that had lost mining and safety licences, but was still continuing as before, with unsatisfactory medical services provided. There was a question about underwater mining, and the fact that miners tended to get sick only after returning to the Eastern Cape. The decision to open a regional office in Umtata was questioned, as there was only quarrying practised in that region. The prevalence of pulmonary tuberculosis was discussed, as well as the lack of reporting on cold stress. Criminal and illegal mining received attention. Members asked about benefits to families of miners who had died.

The Committee's Oversight Report was adopted.  Under the Third-Term Programme, a proposal was adopted to appoint a subcommittee to plan a study tour with the Trade and Industrial Relations Committee. A Democratic Alliance Member moved for a briefing on Shale gas, on the impact of fracking, and a consideration of flood damage.

Meeting report

Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate (MHSI) Annual report 2009/10
Mr David Msiza, Chief Inspector of Mines, Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) provided a background to the current mine health and safety situation. Commodity prices were breaking records with the gold price exceeding $1600 /oz and speculators predicting $2000/oz as the platinum price in the near future. Diminishing gold ore reserves resulted in a deepening of shafts and mining of shaft and remnant pillars. There was a poor legacy of health management resulting in social and economic impact. Mine employees suffered and companies faced potential multimillion rand claims.

Mr Msiza provided figures on occupational health and safety. Mine related deaths had been reduced, through the enforcing of compliance systems; there were more deaths from respiratory diseases than from accidents (slide 14).Actual fatalities per region were reported (slide 17). Fall of ground fatalities were reported (slide 18). Trackless mining mobile machine fatalities were reported (slide 19). Rail bound equipment fatalities were reported (slide 20). Actual injuries per region were reported (slide 21). Occupational safety figures for the various sectors were given (slides 22-23, and 27). Total fatalities for all mines from January 2009 to June 2011 were reported (slide 24). A comparison of sector production and fatalities from January 2010 to March 2011 was provided (slides 25-26).

Mr Msiza then proceeded to outline improvement strategies, and drew attention to 2009/10 achievements and successes. These included improved stakeholder relations, health and safety risks addressed, guidelines developed, internal policies and procedures reviewed and developed, and development of human resources (slide 29). Among challenges, the impact of  tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS on society and industry was noted, as well as the risk of fall of ground accidents which presented a significant obstacle to achieving zero harm. Also a failure to adopt leading practice was noted (slide 30). 

The restructuring of the MHSI to enhance enforcement capacity (slide 32, efforts towards promotion and enforcement (slide 33), and areas addressed in Section 54 instructions (slide 34) were described, Under the heading of occupational health, it was noted that an HIV/AIDS summit would be held this year, and the revised Mining Charter now included health and safety issues and required companies to improve housing and living conditions of mine employees (slide 35). Figures for mine safety achievements were given (slide 36).

 Mr Msiza noted that the platinum sector had to report tuberculosis (TB). The coal sector had to report TB and loss of hearing. Ground falls were responsible for most fatal accidents. There was a prevalence of trackless mining movement machine accidents.

In the platinum sector, it had become evident that stepped up reduction resulted in more deaths. Fatigue due to overtime work was a contributing factor. The Inspectorate had engaged with organised labour and mine management, and with the Departments of Labour and Health as well. The mining sector cultural legacy presented problems. There was no lack of adequate technology, but rather a tendency to opportunism. The Mining Health and Safety Inspectorate had to be restructured. There were positive developments, however. Harmony Mine, notorious for accidents in the past, had appointed a health executive.

The Mining Health and Safety Act was hard to enforce. The Inspectorate had to depend on what the mines told it. Unsafe mines had to be stopped if necessary.


Discussion
Mr B Mnguni (ANC, Free State) commended the presentation. He found it comprehensive, and was pleased with indications that mining fatalities were decreasing. Improved safety technologies were crucial in that regard. An example was that of taking care with support structures against ground fall, which was a major cause of fatal accidents.

Mr Mnguni expressed concern about the high incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis. He questioned the fact that the platinum mines reported a low incidence of silicosis. Asbestos mining had been abolished, and yet there were still incidences of asbestosis. He asked if those suffering from it were new to mining, or whether they had contracted it whilst working in the old asbestos mines.

Mr Msiza responded that the incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis in the platinum sector was indeed high. It had previously been reported to the Department of Health, but currently there also had to be a report to the Inspectorate. There was a poor legacy of dealing with health matters. It had become the custom for mines to report on accidents first. The prevalence of TB was contributed to by as many as 16 miners staying in one room in the hostels. That could be addressed through law in terms of the Mining Charter. The Mining Charter had been reviewed, and it had become necessary to report on the number of groups staying in hostels. Goldfields had spent R600 million on moving miners into houses.

Mr Msiza continued with regard to asbestosis, that it could take up to 20 years to acquire. Most of the current cases were miners who had worked in asbestos mines that had been closed down. Those miners had subsequently moved to other mining sectors.

Mr Mnguni remarked that there were seismic stations who monitored seismic activity on a daily basis. The question was how to combine existing networks to predict possible ground falls. That was especially crucial with regard to pillar mining. New standards had to apply to minimise risk.

Mr Msiza answered that the national and mine networks to monitor seismic activity, would indeed be combined. A research project had been undertaken to that end. If all information could be centralised in the Council for Geosciences (CGS), it could become more possible to warn about seismic activity in advance. He agreed that ground fall accidents occurred often in mines that focused on pillar mining. There was real cause for concern. Reactions to rising commodity prices were wrong. There were measures to consider, and directives had to be considered. A mine that intended to work at a depth of five kilometres had been advised to meet with the Inspectorate first, to deal with the possibilities of heat and rock-burst.

Mr K Sinclair (COPE, Northern Cape) asked why the incidence of cold stress was higher in Mpumalanga. He noted that the presentation did not touch upon criminal or illegal mining.

Mr Msiza replied that, in most cases, colder areas like Secunda were situated in Mpumalanga. Cold stress was not being reported, or the accuracy of reports tended to be dubious. Regarding criminal mining, he noted that it had been occurring since 2008. 86 people had died because of it in Welkom. The local forum to combat it consisted of the South African Police Service (SAPS), the Department of Home Affairs, prosecutors and unions. There was a draft action plan to monitor initiatives. More arrests were being made, including 500 the previous week. An important factor was improved security and access controls. It was becoming ever harder for criminal miners to get underground. The Minister had elevated the security programme to the Ministerial Committee. The Hawks had launched a programme to deal with syndicates. Only foot soldiers, as he phrased it, were encountered in the mines.

Mr Sinclair remarked that health and safety was a broad concept. Properly it had also to refer to mental health and living environments. Political analysts had indicated that there were still many mine hostels in Gauteng. Mining companies had been unable to get out of the hostel situation. That fact was linked to the Mining Charter and applications for mining licences.

Mr Msiza answered that gold mine safety had benefited from a move away from clustering people. When people who worked different shifts were grouped together, disturbance of sleep patterns occurred, which caused fatigue that led to accidents.

Ms B Abrahams (DA, Gauteng) asked about medical benefit support structures for HIV/AIDS and TB.

Dr Dipalesa Mokoboto, Medical Inspector, DMR, added that mines had hitherto been required to report on health matters on an annual basis. Monthly reports would henceforth be required. The Occupational Mine Diseases Act stipulated that miners were entitled to a medical examination for TB when they left a mine. Benefit examinations were administered by the Bureau of Occupational Diseases, which was under the Department of Health. Benefits were being extended beyond occupational diseases. Some mines were attached to Rand Mutual Assurance (RMA). The Compensation of Occupational Diseases Act regulated medical benefits, but the RMA was more effective.

Mr Sinclair said that, in his province, there had to be a satellite office in the Katu area. He asked why Alexcor had lost its mining and safety licences.

Mr Msiza replied that satellite offices were placed in areas that were considered to be ideally suited. Springbok had been the area selected for the Northern Cape. Regarding Alexcor, he noted that the Northern Cape Chief Inspector had been consulted. Instructions had been given to mines to monitor compliance.

Ms E van Lingen (DA, Eastern Cape) complained that the 2009/10 Annual Report had only been received half an hour into the meeting, but was not hot off the press. She noted no reference to finance in the document. She asked for more information about reasons for the downward trend in deaths between 2003 and 2009, and for a breakdown of occupational safety injuries per region.

Mr Msiza responded with an apology for the Report's arriving late. With regard to finances, he said that the report before the Committee was for the Inspectorate. The Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) recorded finances. The Inspectorate would report on finances as the DMR.

Ms Van Lingen referred to the fact that there was practically no mining in the Eastern Cape. Seeing that there were so few deaths, she asked what miners there had died of. With regard to the development of safety guidelines, she asked for a copy of a document on underwater mining.

Mr Msiza replied that there had in fact been no fatal injuries in the Eastern Cape. That had been due to measures taken by the mines, the unions and the inspectorate. But people elsewhere were still being killed from causes that were preventable. There had to be more focus on health, especially respiratory diseases. There was less risk of fatal accidents in quarrying. The most common accidents had to do with falling from heights, especially from conveyor belts. The quarries were more mechanised, with fewer fatal accidents as a result. There was a new commitment to safety on the part of the mines and the Inspectorate. He undertook to provide a copy of the report on underwater mining.

Ms Van Lingen noted that with regard to the Alexcor issue, Parliament had tried to address health safety issues there. An appointment of an 'unqualified' doctor, based in Springbok 170 kilometres away, had been made. Yet there was a properly qualified doctor in Alexander Bay. Mining was going on, in spite of the loss of licence. Nothing had changed. She asked if human relations development training inspectors would be allocated to the provinces where mining was most prevalent. The doctor appointed by Alexcor was only available 4 hours per week. The doctor based in Alexander Bay could be employed at 40% of the cost. It would be cheaper and more cost effective to use his services. There had been a meeting before April, but nothing had happened.

Mr Msiza responded that the Inspectorate strove to apply the law with regard to Alexcor. There would be a follow up to ensure compliance.

Ms Van Lingen remarked that there was a high rate of occupational diseases. People would be sent home to the Eastern Cape and get sick there. She asked if that was being reported, if it was on record, and what influence reports would have on existing figures. Concerning a decision to open a regional office in Umtata, she asked why an office had to be opened in an area where nothing but quarrying was going on.

Mr Msiza replied that the Eastern Cape was an area from which labour was sent to mining centres elsewhere. Miners who had previously worked elsewhere, had complained that Port Elizabeth was too far to deal with their health complaints. That was the motive behind opening a regional office in Umtata.

Ms Van Lingen asked about the budget and preparations for the proposed summit on mine health and safety. Concerning the summit on HIV/AIDS and TB, she asked when and where it would be held and at what cost, and how the message would be taken down to ground level.

Mr Msiza responded that the health and safety summit would be held at the end of September.  The HIV/Aids summit would follow at the end of the year.

Ms Abrahams asked about benefits to families.

Dr Mokoboto replied that there were death benefits for all, but there were no figures for amounts paid out. Under the RMA, former miners could be examined for compensation for occupational lung diseases. Lungs of deceased miners could be examined post mortem, and if lung disease was found, there would be benefits.

Mr Mnguni remarked that he himself had exited from mining in 1999, without receiving a benefit examination.

Ms Mokoboto responded that she was interested to know why he had not received the exit examination. It was currently explained to every employee that he was entitled to an exit examination. She said that much depended on his exposure. He could still be examined for silicosis.

Mr Mnguni pointed out that there was indeed a relationship between stepped up production and fatalities. He had seen mines depart from the standard of placing underground supports every three metres, only placing supports every five metres. That was done because they were in a hurry. Such malpractice caused ground falls. Ground falls were also caused when too many square metres were blasted at once.

Mr Msiza agreed with Mr Mnguni that a cultural framework was needed to deal with such practices. The Inspectorate would have to visit every mine towards that end.

The Chairperson concluded that fatalities were disturbing. Time had to be found to oversee Alexcor and the Northern Cape. He asked the Inspectorate to invite the Committee to the summit on mine health and safety.

Oversight Report
Ms Van Lingen noted that she and Mr Sinclair had looked at the oversight report. They had made their submissions. She proposed that the report be accepted. Mr D Gamede (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) seconded.

The Chairperson pronounced the report adopted.

Third-Term Programme
The Chairperson reminded the Committee of the objective to take Parliament to the people. Mr M Maine (ANC, North West) and Ms Abrahams had visited Limpopo, and Mr Gamede and Ms Van Lingen had visited the Eastern Cape, where Mr Gamede had been caught in the snow.

The Chairperson drew attention to a proposed joint study tour with the Trade and Industrial Relations Select Committee, possibly in September.

Mr Sinclair proposed that a committee of two be appointed for roll-out and preparations, and that Members be nominated there and then.

Mr Gamede approved of the proposal, but insisted that it had to be a joint committee. The two Chairpersons and secretaries had to sit.

The Chairperson declared it acceptable in principle, but noted that the Committee Whip had to be present also.

Mr Maine said that the tour had to occur between the end of August and 16 September, or not at all.

Mr Sinclair agreed that the committee had to consist of the two Chairpersons, the Whip and Ms Van Lingen.

The Chairperson said that he would get back to him on the matter.

Mr Sinclair insisted that he was making a formal proposal, which had to be dealt with straight away. He was seconded by Ms Van Lingen.

The Chairperson declared the proposal adopted.

Mr A Nyambi (ANC, Mpumalanga) warned that if things were not carefully handled, there would be no trip. He urged that the sooner the proposed committee met, the better, at best within that very week.

Mr Sinclair referred to tours of France and India; the subcommittee had to come with a proposal.

The Chairperson noted that there would be a briefing by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) on the New Growth Path on 16 August. There would be a meeting at Koeberg on 23 August. The DMR would appear in front of the Committee on 30 August. 6 September would be devoted to Economic Development. The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) provinces week would be from 12 to 16 September. 

Mr Sinclair remarked that his province was not properly represented. He had two proposals. The first was for a briefing on shale gas, and the impact of fracking [hydraulic fracturing]. The second was for a consideration of flood damage. He had submitted a report, but there had been no response.

Ms Van Lingen said that Mr Maine could help arrange a period for oversight.

Mr Maine assured the Committee that a week would be set aside for oversight.

Ms Van Lingen remarked that Mr Sinclair had submitted a request for consideration of flood losses and fracking, both highly important matters. But there was no way to get the ball rolling in that term.

The Chairperson replied that an application for a debate on fracking was with the Minister. The DMR had to address the Committee and the Portfolio Committee on fracking. He would get back to Mr Sinclair about the matter.

Committee Minutes: adoption
The Committee adopted the minutes of 22 March,  27 May,  1 June, and 14 June 2011.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

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