The Department of Minerals and Energy briefed the Committee on the Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill which was about to be introduced into Parliament. The objectives of the Bill were to strengthen its enforcement provisions, to simplify the administrative system for issuing of fines and to
reinforce offences and penalties. Some of the amendments introduced by the Bill dealt with training records to be kept by employers, the investigation where accidents had occurred, the re-establishment of the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate, the establishment of permanent committees of the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC), the increase of administrative fines from R200 000 to R1million, and also the government’s powers to enter mines.
The Committee raised serious concerns about the capacity of inspectors to enforce legislation. Other questions and comments included:
- the objectivity of an employer’s self-investigation of accidents
- the resource capacity to take action against defaulters in the mining industry
- unnecessary appeals by industry and an appeal process that was never ending.
- inspection of proper training of employees
- the power of the Minister to visit mines
- miners should be afforded better protection by means of a separate compensation fund for the mining industry given its huge size
- release date of the report on the presidential audit on mines.
The Department would address the Committee shortly on their response to submissions they had received from stakeholders.
The Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) briefed the committee on the Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill. The delegation comprised of Mr Thabo Gazi who was the Chief Inspector of Mines as well as the Deputy Director General of Mine Safety, Ms Nomsa Maki Chief Director and Mr Rikus Van Rensberg Executive Assistant to the Chief Inspector.
Mr Gazi explained that mine safety and health was high on the agenda of the Department. The number of deaths in mines had decreased over the last two decades. For the years 1987, 1997 and 2008 the numbers of deaths in mines had been 1000, 500 and 200 respectively. The improvement in figures was due to risk management and tripartite structures. However the current amount of 200 had remained a constant for the last three years and the Department was looking for ways in decreasing this number even further. The Minister had asked the mining industry why the death toll was still so high and the President had called for a mine audit. In 2004 mine unions had raised concerns over mine health and safety.
The Bill amended the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1996. That Act was weak on non-compliance and the payment of fines took long and in some instances were not paid. The payment of a fine was considered to be an admission of guilt. The objectives of the amendments was to review and reinforce the enforcement provisions, simplify the administrative system for issuing of fines, harmonise the administrative processes of the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) with the processes of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, and lastly to establish the Mine Inspectorate as an entity of government.
Mr Gazi provided the Committee with insight into the consultations and processes thus far. Consultations within the industry had taken place through the Mine Health and Safety Council. On the 16 May 2008 the Bill was published in the Government Gazette for public comment. Comments that had been received had been considered and where possible, the suggestions incorporated. On the 2 June 2008 the Bill had been certified and would very shortly be formally introduced into Parliament.
The key amendments introduced by the Bill were that training records had to be kept by employers, employers had to undertake investigations where accidents had occurred, the re-establishment of the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate, the establishment of permanent committees of the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC), the increase of administrative fines from R200 000 to R1million, offences applicable to the employer and also the Minister’s power to visit mines. Mr Gazi explained each amendment and the rationale behind it. He pointed out that the amendments dealing with employer investigations and employer offences had been highly contested. He mentioned that there were subsequent amendments relating to liability, functions of personnel and general cleanup but did not elaborate further on these.
Adv H Schmidt (DA) referred to the provision dealing with the employer having to undertake an investigation and to submit a report where an incident had taken place. He asked what guarantees were there that the report would be objective considering that the employer might in the process incriminate himself. Mr Schmidt said that a balance needed to be found.
Mr Gazi responded that the point was not for employers to incriminate themselves. The idea was for employers to do a proper investigation and if it were not done properly, the Inspectorate would investigate. The report by the employer could not be used as a basis for action against the employer.
Ms A Dreyer (DA) asked if the Inspectorate for Mine Health and Safety fell under DME or the Department of Labour. She also asked if the Workmen’s Compensation Act covered injured miners.
Mr Gazi replied that the Inspectorate reported to the DME. He stated that the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) was overarching legislation and that it covered miners.
Mr C Molefe (ANC) had concerns relating to resource capacity, more specifically, capacity to take action against the mining industry. He referred to the power of the Minister to enter mines and asked whether it did not include Members of Parliament - such as this Committee. Did the Mine Health Safety Council and the Inspectorate have similar powers?
Mr Molefe referred to the investigations to be undertaken by employers and asked if it was to be the only investigation or would structures like the Inspectorate also be able to investigate. Finally, he asked about the composition of the Mine Health Safety Council.
Mr Gazi referred to capacity and said that inspectors were empowered to enter work premises. It was felt that the Minister should have the power to visit mines. The issue was however about administrative powers. The powers to make administrative decisions lay with the inspectors. The Minister would not be making the day to day administrative decisions. Mr Gazi said that the Mine Health Safety Council was made up of five members each from employers, labour and state departments.
Ms B Tinto (ANC) asked if action against illegal mines fell under the Inspectorate or SAPS. She also asked if mines could still be held responsible when miners became sick some time after they had taken the exit examination.
Mr Gazi replied that it was too dangerous for inspectors to confront illegal miners as they were often armed. He noted that illegal miners in the Free State had been armed with AK-47s. The Inspectorate had engaged in meetings with SAPS and the Minister intended to meet with the Minister of Justice.
Ms Maki responded that after an exit examination, a benefit examination would be done every two years to diagnose conditions that might have arisen. This was to enable the ex-miner to claim compensation in such an eventuality.
Ms N Mathibela (ANC) referred to the investigation to be undertaken by the employer and asked if they would be truthful in their findings. She referred to instances where mines subcontract its work and asked who would ensure that there was compliance by subcontractors.
Ms Mathibela asked if there were enough health inspectors. She spoke about instances where miners became sick some 10 years after leaving the mines or where miners had been chased away and asked if examinations on such miners would be done.
Mr Gazi replied that the reason why employers were asked to do investigations was because the Inspectorate was getting nowhere with its own investigations. He said that people lied and often investigations were ring fenced. The idea was to obtain access to information to drive health and safety in the sector.
Ms Maki said that the law required exit examinations to be done. Records of these examinations should be forwarded to the DME.
Mr Gazi explained that each province had hygiene and medical inspectors. The MHSA deemed a contractor to be an employee of mine owners. He said that compliance in the industry was low. It raised serious questions about the ability of inspectors to enforce legislation. Most of the work done by the Inspectorate was reactive and consequently proactive work suffered.
An ANC member asked why had the death toll in mines stayed constant at 200 for the last three years. Why had it not decreased any further? He also asked if the amendments would address the non-payment of fines and the unnecessary appeals by the industry.
Mr Gazi felt that the amendments were more proactive and that it was hoped that the death toll in mines would decrease. Deeper interventions were however needed. In the UK mine health and safety went beyond mining. There was a need to look at occupational health and safety culture issues. Research was currently being done on this. The idea was to be proactive and to prevent accidents from happening.
Mr Gazi explained that the fine system would be simplified by the amendments. It was the appeal process that was never ending.
The Chair said that it looked as if the legislation had been lax. He said that it was probably an oversight. He asked if there were any areas that stakeholders had raised in their submissions that had not been covered in the briefing. He was also concerned if the records to be furnished by employers would be a true reflection. How often would inspections be done to check whether training of employees had taken place? He asked if the power of the Minister to visit mines was a new provision or if it had always been there. Was it only now being regulated? He asked for an explanation on how the visits would be done.
Mr Gazi noted that comment had been received from trade unions, the Chamber of Mines, mining groups and Eskom and such like. Most of the comments had been constructive and related to aspects of health and safety permissioning, levies, taxation, fines, and training records.
Ms Dreyer asked what the quality and number of inspectors were. She was concerned that mine accidents were inevitable and that miners got injured. She felt it a problem that miners were also covered by COIDA as miners should be afforded better protection. If there was an Inspectorate, why not a separate compensation fund for the mining industry given its huge size?
Mr Gazi did not wish to comment on the issue of compensation as it fell within the ambit of the Department of Labour. He nevertheless felt it to be an important observation, as miners did deserve better.
Adv Schmidt asked how many inspectors and how many mines there were. He also asked when were the findings of the presidential audit to be released. He wanted a breakdown of what the different causes for the 200 mine deaths were.
Mr Gazi replied that there had been 190 inspectors, the figure currently sat between 120-130. There were 700 registered mines. Matters were made worse by the fact that a single mine might have many places of work that needed to be inspected. The presidential audit had been completed at the end of May 2008. An independent report was to be compiled and it would be finalised by mid July 2008.
Ms Mathibela referred to the examinations that had to be done within 30 days and asked what happened if the deadline was not met.
Mr Gazi replied that the 30 days involved the administrative work of doing an examination. Occupational illnesses took time to develop and patients would be linked back to mines. Mine employers were required to keep records for 40 years. The legislation now created an offence if it was not done.
The Chair asked what the process from here was.
Mr Gazi replied that the comments received from stakeholders were being considered. The department would address the Committee shortly or after the July recess on the comments that had been received.
The meeting was adjourned.
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