Covid-19 compliance at mines

NCOP Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy

28 July 2020
Chairperson: Ms T Modise (ANC, North West)
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Meeting Summary

Audio: Mine Health and Safety Council on implementation of Covid-19-related safety regulations at mines & Department’s response to any non-compliance by mines 

The Select Committee convened in a virtual meeting to receive a briefing from the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) on the implementation of COVID-19 safety regulations at mines, and the Department’s response to any non-compliance at the mines.

The MHSC highlighted the “customer perspective” as part of its strategic objectives, which was premised on advising the Minister on the necessary health and safety measures to be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the mining industry. They also highlighted the use of COVID-19 guiding principles in the mining industry as a means of promoting compliance with the rules of social and physical distancing as a preventative tool.

The Committee expressed appreciation for the commitment shown by the DMRE and the MHSC to implement preventative measures for COVID-19 in the mining industry. However, they also expressed concern over the lack of detail on specific issues highlighted in the presentation, such as the potential job losses in the mining sector as a result of the pandemic. They stressed that the MHSC, together with the DMRE, needed to look into the re-skilling, capacitating and training of mine workers. They also requested further information on the number of tests and screenings at each mine in each province, in comparison with the tests and screenings conducted by the Department of Health.

The Council said that a committee had been established to look into the re-skilling of mine workers, and although it was still in its early stages, a plan was in place to address their capacitation. The MHSC and the DMRE conceded that the statistics provided in the presentation had been sourced from the Minerals Council of South Africa, and that they had not yet conducted their own research on the specific issues. They committed to doing further research and providing clear statistics to the Select Committee in the near future.

Meeting report

MHSC: Covid-19-related safety regulations

Mr David Msiza, Chief Inspector of Mines: Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), said that since the announcement of the National Lockdown by President Ramaphosa, the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC), through the leadership of the Minister of Mineral Resources, had been engaging with various stakeholders to ensure that plans were put in place to respond to COVID-19. The MHSC had also had a special meeting in March where they discussed a plan of action that would be in line with the requirements specified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Department of Health (DoH) guidelines, in order to respond to the pandemic accordingly.

Mr Thabo Dube, Chief Executive Officer: MHSC, said that in its strategic priorities for 2020/21 and extending to the next five years, the MHSC had identified five strategic focus areas and objectives. However, with COVID-19, the focus was on the customer perspective, which was basically focused on advising the Minister on health and safety matters, promoting health and safety in the South African mining industry, and liaising with various statutory bodies relating to issues of occupational health and safety in the mining industry.

The first strategic objective under customer perspective was focused on issues and measures that were going to be implemented in relation to COVID-19. From the end of 2019 to January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had accepted that COVID-19 could be spread through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes within a range of about 1.8 meters, and the pandemic was declared a public health emergency of international concern. In March, COVID-19 was declared by the WHO as a global pandemic, which led to the declaration of a National State of Disaster by the President. In June, the MHSC had reviewed its annual performance plan (APP) in order to accommodate projects that would assist the South African mining industry (SAMI) in combating the scourge of COVID-19.

The latest statistics relating to COVID-19 in the mining industry, according to the Minerals Council of South Africa, revealed that out of 385 reporting mines which accounted for 428 154 employees, the total number of employees that had been screened was 315 134. The number of employees tested was 33 580, while the total number of positive cases recorded was 7 953. The number of active cases was 3 731. The total number of deaths was 73, while the number of recovered cases was 4 149.

As the budget allocation for the Department had been adjusted, the strategic objective of the MHSC would be focused on providing advice to the Minister of Mineral Resources on health and safety matters in the SAMI, and communities affected by mining. As part of the initiatives, the MHSC would be looking at the legislative programme. It had developed guiding principles in relation to the prevention and management of COVID-19 since March. As the mining industry was starting to open up in April, guidelines were provided to the industry on how to safely return to work, and that had been facilitated through communications by the DMRE and MHSC, as well as through websites, emails and social media platforms.

Lately, the MHSC had developed a mandatory guideline for the prevention, mitigation and management of COVID-19 which had been promulgated on 17 May. In continuing the advice to the Minister, the MHSC had devised a research programme which included areas that were relevant to COVID-19, and had identified a number of short-term projects that could be completed within three months to provide advice to the SAMI. The MHSC was also looking at the reporting of data which assisted in receiving real-time data pertaining to COVID-19, and was to be reported on the MHSC portal. This was data that would be used to ensure the ability to respond and intervene in time, to make sure that there was an improvement in the management of COVID-19 in the mining industry.

Mr Dube said that in utilising the data that they would be collecting on a daily and weekly basis, the MHSC would review the state of health and safety in the mining industry while also including COVID-19 related issues. The data collected would be analysed, and recommendations would be provided to the Minister of Mineral Resources regarding the interventions that needed to be made. The research that would be done would also focus on, and devise, the dissemination strategy in terms of the best practice that would be coming out of the research and engagements that would be held with various stakeholders. The Mining Industry and other stakeholders and associations would be provided with the information through presentations held via virtual platforms.

The MHSC would continue to engage with various strategic partners, such as the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH) on how best to deal with COVID-19 related issues within the mining industry. It had also been in collaboration with DMRE and the Council for GeoScience (CGS) as part of the ramping-up of mining operations. One of the areas of concern was the issue of seismicity, which an ad hoc committee had been appointed to monitor. The Minister was also provided with weekly reports on the trends as far as this issue was concerned.

One of the key research areas that the MHSC was going to be looking at in future was the assessment of the capacity and capability of the mining infrastructure to deal with COVID-19. There was also an investigation into the practical measures and technologies that could assist with the measures that were required for COVID-19, including physical distancing. The MHSC was also going to implement previous research that it had done in the past 22 years in order to see how it could be used in relation to COVID-19. One of the areas it had also looked at was reducing the impact of job losses, as with the advent of the pandemic, the industry might be facing changes in how business was conducted, and there might be an introduction of new technology. The MHSC had established a Centre of Education and Training for mining in collaboration with the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) to look at the issue of re-skilling mineworkers.

It was also looking at financial sustainability, and the possibility of not being able to gain the revenue amounts that were needed. This had been done, taking into account the challenges that some of the mining companies were experiencing, as well as the fact that most of the revenue that the Council received was collected from the mines. There were therefore a number of initiatives that the MHSC was putting in place in order to ensure the sustainability of the mining industry.

It had also developed and disseminated a COVID-19 audit tool to all the regional offices and provinces for implementation. The total number of mine inspections and audits that were conducted at the end of June was 1 681, and enforcement measures were taken where necessary by the inspectors in order to ensure compliance with the provisions of the MHSA. Even with the advent of COVID-19, if the mining industry continued to work together as a tri-partite structure within the industry, they would be able to ensure that every mineworker returned home unharmed every day. With the level of experience and relationship that the different stakeholders within the industry had, it was possible to overcome COVID-19 and its challenges.

Discussion

Mr C Smit (DA, Limpopo) asked for an explanation for the variation between the number of mineworkers that had been screened in relation to the total number of employees. He also asked for a breakdown of the number of COVID-19 positive cases per mine in each different municipal area. This was so that there could be an identification of the number of cases that had been tested and identified on the mines, because in Limpopo, for example, the identified cases were much higher within areas where there were mines. This could be a result of the efficiency in testing that was done at the mines, but that should be a concern, because that could mean that the number of active cases could be much higher than the cases reported by the DoH. This information could be useful in showing the efficiency of the testing that was being done at the mines, in comparison with the DoH. He also asked whether the mining industry received any support from the DoH, and whether they were satisfied with the support if they were receiving, if any.

Ms M Mokause (EFF, Northern Cape) expressed concern that the existence of the MHSC was questionable because of the manner in which the DMRE had acted in opening the mines prematurely during the beginning of lockdown, without even monitoring how the mines were going to operate, as some of the mines in the Northern Cape had operated at a capacity of about 70%. What role had the MHSC played in advising the Department during that period? She also asked about the amount the MHSC had spent on awareness, prevention, testing and screening for COVID-19, and on the service providers that they had appointed and the role they played. This was an important question, because currently there was a lot of corruption being reported with regard to COVID-19 relief funds from the ruling party. Therefore, there needed to be reports and answers in regard to the money that was being used. She also asked for an indication of the provinces and municipal areas with mines that had participated in the screening and tests for COVID-19.

Ms W Ngwenya (ANC, Gauteng) asked about the number and location of mining companies that had been shut down or issued with notices in terms of Section 54 and 55 of the Mine Health and Safety Act due to non-compliance with COVID-19 regulations. She also asked about the language that was used in the awareness and training programmes conducted to educate employees of mining companies about the guidelines for managing COVID-19 and the results they had produced, and whether the attendance was mandatory for employees.

Mr A Arnolds (EFF, Western Cape) asked for a description of how the mining companies were adhering and complying with the rules of physical distancing.

Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) asked whether there were any other mines that had been visited and checked for compliance with COVID-19 regulations, and whether the infection rate in the mines correlated with that of the country. Was there a difference in infection rates between the different kinds of mines?

Ms L Bebee (ANC, KZN) asked whether the adjusted budget would affect the implementation of projects that were planned for mine health and safety. The provisions of the MHSC required the creation of a conducive work environment especially for women in mining. The safety and security of women in mines, specifically with regard to gender-based violence (GBV), had to receive high priority.

Mr T Matibe (ANC, Limpopo) asked about the frequency of the COVID-19 screenings that were held in the mines for the workers, and whether they were conducted on a daily basis. Did the Department have a strategy for recalibrating the mining sector to assist in the resuscitation of the economy after the pandemic? Was the Department planning to formalise the informal sector of mines in the country, as they were also a health risk? Lastly, he asked whether the Department had a strategy for mineral reserves at the local, regional or continental level.

MHSC’s response

Mr Dube responded to the question on the difference in the number of mineworkers that were screened in comparison to the total number of employees, and said the source of information was the Minerals Council of South Africa -- the MHSC had not started collecting data on its own. Therefore, the source of data was not internal, which made it difficult to explain the difference in the numbers. The answer could only be provided after an engagement with the Minerals Council. The MHSC would engage with the Minerals Council in order to provide a full explanation of the statistics used in the presentation.

Regarding the training that was conducted on the guidelines for COVID-19, the MHSC had not got down to the level of the workers, only as far as the level of the regional forums, which did not go to the worker and staff level. It was something that the MHSC was working to improve on. The dissemination of information and the training was all conducted in English at the provincial level, where the mine managers, health and safety representatives, and regional officials from the DMRE were all part of the sessions. Information that was translated into the different South African languages had not been developed at the moment, but it was something that the MHSC was working on.

Regarding the re-skilling of the mineworkers who were more likely to be affected by COVID-19, and the introduction of new technology in the mining industry, the committee in the mining sector was still in its early stages of development, as members had only recently been appointed. It was one of the things that would be looked at in the next scheduled meeting of the MHSC.

Social distancing advice to the Minister was another issue that was currently being looked at, as the MHSC was considering various forms of technology that could assist. For example, in the workplace, devices could be installed to indicate the number of people that needed to be in a particular space at a given time. There had not been any advice given to the Minister in that regard at the moment, as the MHSC was still working on it.

The MHSC had come up with a number of initiatives related to the safety and security of women in the mining industry, including PPE that was suitable for women, dealing with issues of sexual harassment and the security of women. The MHSC had provided guidelines on how the mines could deal with those issues, and had also established an advisory committee that specifically dealt with such issues, and would advise the Council. The Council would then advise the Minister on what needed to be done and what measures needed to be put in place in dealing with issues relating to the safety of women in mines.

Ms Ntokozo Ngcwabe, Deputy Director General: Mineral Policy and Promotions, DMRE, referred to recalibrating the mining sector, and said from the first day of the national lockdown, the Department had started working on a recovery plan which looked at specific interventions that could help reignite the economy and assist the sector. That plan contained the Small Scale Mining Programme, for which the Department had approved a total of R38 million over the past three months to finance small scale miners, and a total of R1.2 million had been guaranteed for small scale miners who were mining permit holders. More interventions would be made by the Department.

Mr Msiza said that the Minister had led the processes in the mining sector through engagements with the Minerals Council and the energy sector, as well as organised labour. The regulations that had been promulgated especially for the mining sector were allowing only the essential services to operate in the initial stage of the national lockdown, and within the mining sector it was not all the mines in the country that were operating. For example, the mines that were providing coal to ESKOM were considered as essential.

Regarding the screenings that took place in mines, in the beginning the mines were not allowed to operate at full capacity, which was the reason for the variation between the number of employees that were screened and the total number of employees in the mining sector. The numbers that were provided in the presentation reflected the beginning of the lockdown in terms of the number of screenings and testings that were done by the mining sector.

The Department had come up with guiding principles to assist the sector to come up with procedures and protocols. Those guiding principles stipulated that the mines needed to adopt a risk-based approach -- whether it was an essential service or not -- because COVID-19 affected everyone in the mines, so if the mines were to operate at full capacity, they would not be able to practice social distancing. Even up till now, some of the mines were not operating at 100% capacity, which was the cause of the variations in the statistics.

Regarding the support of the Department of Health, the MHSC had encouraged its regional managers to participate in the district councils that focused on health. It had also been working with the DoH on other initiatives as well, and the DoH had assisted the MHSC in reviewing the legislation accordingly.

To ensure compliance, the MHSC conducted inspections and issued instructions where necessary, as per Section 55 of the Mine Health and Safety Act. 161 Section 54 instructions had been issued, and 51 Section 55 instructions. Section 54 stipulated that if an inspector went to a mine and found that there were dangerous occurrences or conditions, the inspector could issue an instruction to stop a part of the mine, or the entire mine. Section 55 was for lighter cases -- for example, where there was a non-life-threatening transgression at the mine. The MHSC had been following protocols in terms of issuing these instructions. The Minister had visited mines in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the North West Province after the guiding principles were issued to check the level of compliance, because those were the mines that had been operating at the beginning of the lockdown. The level of compliance in the mines had been varied, as the big mines had the protocols and the codes of practice in place. However, the biggest issue was that the screening and testing needed to be done in line with the regulations that had been promulgated. Subsequently, some of the mines had testing equipment, and the MHSC had asked them to also share that equipment with their respective municipalities.

One of the key issues that had been included in the guidelines was that anyone who came from another province needed to be quarantined for 14 days. The areas that had high infection numbers were the gold and platinum mines, as they were the biggest and more labour-intensive mines in the country in comparison to the coal mines. Underground mines were the ones that reported the most COVID-19 infection cases.

Adv Thbo Mokoena, Director-General, DMRE, said the Department was monitoring spending to ensure that they do not have any corrupt situations where they found themselves on the wrong side of the law. It was managing its processes closely, in compliance with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). The point about mineral reserves was a valid point, and in due course the Department would present to the Select Committee on its work in the region and the continent.

Follow-up questions

Mr Smit asked for a commitment from the DMRE that they would provide a breakdown of the positive COVID-19 cases per mine, according to their municipal areas.

Ms Mokause said that the entities that answered to the DMRE must be informed that when they appeared before the Select Committee, they should bring with them the documentation of the work that they had done on their own, and not information that came from a different entity that they could not account for.

Ms Ngwenya asked for the provincial locations of the mines that had been shut down due to non-compliance with COVID-19 regulations.

Response

Mr Msiza said that the Department would provide the information regarding the specific mines and municipalities as soon as possible. Regarding the breakdown by provinces, the Department had issued high-level instructions to Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Gauteng, KZN and the Northern Cape, and the information could and would be provided in terms of the non-compliance.

Adv Mokoena shared his closing remarks by stating that the Department and MHSC remained committed to ensuring that the mining Industry thrived through the implementation of their policies as government.

The Chairperson raised a concern on the gender imbalance in the leadership of the Department, as the chairperson, CEO and chief inspector were all men, and asked whether there were no capable women in the Department who could take up these positions. She added that at future meetings, the presentations needed to detail information on each of the nine provinces in the country, as the Select Committee represented the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). The Department also had to provide information regarding the mineral reserves at the regional and continental level, as they were needed for poverty alleviation in the country. The Select Committee acknowledged the capacitation and re-skilling of mineworkers, but this should improve the capability of the mineworkers to improve their lives should they move away from the mining sector.

Adoption of Committee Minutes

Mr Matibe moved the adoption of the Committee minutes dated 21 and 24 July 2020, and Ms Bebee seconded. The minutes were adopted.

Adoption of Budget Vote Reports

Mr Matibe moved the adoption of the Adjusted Budget Vote Reports for Vote 29: Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform and Vote 34: Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.

Ms Bebee seconded.

Ms Mokause advised that the EFF objected to the Reports.

Administrative concerns

Mr M Nhanha (DA, Eastern Cape) expressed concern about Microsoft Teams system which was used for the virtual meetings, as it gave him connection problems, and there always seemed to be technical glitches. He suggested that the virtual meetings be held via Zoom, because it was much better than Microsoft Teams.

Mr Matibe agreed with Mr Nhanha, and suggested that the issue be raised in the Committee of Chairpersons.

The Chairperson also agreed with the Members, and encouraged them to continue to raise this issue with the administration.

The meeting was adjourned.

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