South Africa. The controversial Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill may be responsible for sending mine chief executives to jail if the bill becomes law.
Mine safety has been a major issue and the Department of Minerals and Energy has decided that tougher legislation is the only way to ensure action.
The controversial Bill stems from the work-related deaths of over 870 miners since 2004 with about 30 deaths in the first two months of 2009.
The Bill has been a topic of heated debate within the mining sector.
The current Mine Health and Safety Act which follows a preventative approach will be modified and the Amendment Bill will give the Department of Minerals and Energy considerably greater power to:
- Increase non-compliance fines from a maximum of R200 000 to R1-million;
- Enforce deadlines for mine authorities to produce accident reports;
- Grant and revoke Health and Safety permits;
- Close down accident sites until the department’s Safety standards are met.
The most controversial and debated aspects of the Bill are the introduction of the subsection 3 proviso (corporate homicide) which essentially entails mine management possibly spending five years behind bars or paying a fine of R 3 million if they are found guilty of negligence.
There is also the possibility of closing down the accident site. The inspector may require all activities to cease on the site indefinitely with no possibility of reversal of the order, only a chance to appeal.
Section 86A of the Bill will hold employers liable for any transgressions that occur, regardless of the level of negligence. According to the amended Bill, liability now extends to the CEO, managers, agents and other employees.
However, there are many other key role players to consider with regard to prosecuting negligent parties; The Department of Minerals and Energy is responsible for investigation and regulation of mine related issues, the National Prosecuting Authority which is responsible for prosecuting negligent companies.
The interconnectedness of the mining industry implies that blame cannot be placed squarely on any one organisation or individual.
Both the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should be held accountable as well.
Advocate Hendrik Schmidt, Democratic Alliance spokesperson for Minerals and Energy feels that the DME is not doing its job and that incapacity within the department is responsible for irregular,delayed inspections and time mismanagement.
The DME is not the only inefficient role player, according to Lance Greyling, Independent Democrats spokesperson for Minerals and Energy.
Mr Greyling suggests that perhaps government should also receive penalties. Mr Greyling also reported that the NPA has had 223 negligence related cases since 2004 of which only three have been concluded.
In response to Lance Greyling’s statements, Tlali Tlali, spokesperson for the NPA reported that he had not seen the presidential report and he was also unable to explain the backlog of cases as it would take weeks to track the cases down and contact the parties responsible.
Professor May Hermanus feels that despite the “Draconian” Bill will still not be enough to transform the lives of South African miners. She (Professor Hermanus) felt that it would be vital to engage with deeper issues like individual disempowerment and income discrepancy.
Professor Hermanus’ also added that the mining industry was still caught up in the legacy of the past and this was illustrated by a major lack of communication between employers and labourers because of language differences.
Chamber of Mines Chief Executive Sipho Nkosi shared Professor Hermanus’ sentiments and added that threats of heavy fines and imprisonment would inevitably chase skilled managers and supervisors away from the mining industry to less pressured jobs.
The Mine Health and Safety Amendment (MHSA) Bill is still awaiting President Kgalema Motlanthe’s signature after nearly six months.
Sources: Mining Weekly. Mail & Guardian