Mining Industry Occupational Safety: Health and Safety Secretariat briefing

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Meeting report

ECONOMIC AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS SELECT COMMITTEE
20 October 2004

MINING INDUSTRY OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY: HEALTH AND SAFETY SECRETARIAT BRIEFING

Chairperson: Ms Ndalane (ANC Western Cape)

Documents handed out:
Presentation to PPC of the National Council of Provinces
Chief Inspector of Mines PowerPoint presentation: "The state of occupational health and safety in SA mines"

SUMMARY
Ms Hermanus (Chief Inspector of Mines) delivered a PowerPoint presentation about occupational health and safety in the South African mining industry. She reported on the number of workers compared to the number of deaths each year, and what were being done to promote safety. She outlined the corrective strategies implemented, but said that the mining industry still faced major challenges. Members mainly raised questions pertaining to the mining situation in their own provinces.

MINUTES
Ms M Hermanus (Chief Inspector of Mines) began her presentation with an overview of the mining industry, and changes in the legal framework for health and security since 1994. The objectives of the Health and Safety Secretariat had been to reduce occupational injuries and ill-health, improve information management, support new entrants into the industry, and to promote research. With regard to the latter, they had set up a R40 million research fund.

Ms Hermanus gave a statistical overview of the fatal and disabling injury rates in the different mining sectors, such as gold, diamonds and coal, and said that the safety performance had improved since 200. However, it would still be a challenge to lower mortality and disabling injuries over the next ten years. They aimed to reduce injuries industry-wide by 20%, and gold sector injuries by 50%. Ms Hermanus related how some of the accidents had been handled, and said that significant progress had been made in establishing good relationships with miners.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked if the Committee could be invited to visit some of the mines to get a better feel for the situation. She also asked why nothing had been mentioned about gas and copper mining. Lastly she enquired about the ratio of South African miners to non-South African miners.

Mr J Sibiya (ANC, Limpopo) asked about the platinum mines in Limpopo. He wanted to know if the high accident toll should be ascribed to bad technology or to carelessness. He also enquired what the mines were doing about skills development. Lastly, he raised concern about some non-South African companies that had permission to sift through the mine dumps for excess gold. He asked if there were health risks involved in sifting, and if the people that worked on the dumps were protected in any way.

Mr Sinclair (NNP, Northern Cape) asked where the nine regional inspection office were situated. He also enquired where the R40 million for the research fund came from. With regards to the issue of rehabilitation, he said that there must be technology to help people with work-related diseases. He asked if there was any compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses. Lastly, he asked how SA mines related to those of Botswana and Ghana. Since they were closer neighbours, he felt that South Africa should compare the industry with theirs, and not with those of America and Australia.

Ms Hermanus explained that copper fell under 'other mining products' and did not constitute as big a part of the industry as gold, platinum, coal and diamonds. There were far fewer work-related deaths than in the larger mining spheres. Concerning the issue of natural gas, the Mine Health and Safety Act did not consider gas as part of the mining industry.

She further addressed the issue of compensation for work-related illness. The Mine Health and Safety Act was not retroactive and mines were not responsible to compensating for work-related illness that occurred before the Act was passed. The mines however did help to channel disease sufferers into the 'right stream' to get some form of financial aid. Concerning the companies operating on mine dumps, she said that those companies were also regulated under the Mine Health and Safety Ac. In relation to the high number of deaths at platinum mines, Ms Hermanus explained even small 'mistakes' could cause many deaths. Concerning the issue of skills development, she explained that current programmes ranged from student bursaries to programmes for skilled workers to train them to be safety inspectors.

Ms Hermanus said that the R40 million for the research fund come from a levy from the industry. With regards to comparing the South African industry with Australia, rather than Botswana and Ghana, she said that Botswana and Ghana did not have any national figures available at the time of study. With regards to small mines posing a disproportionately large safety risk, they were currently studying whether the smaller mines more dated equipment was creating these risks.

The meeting was adjourned.

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