The government is turning up the heat on mining chief executives through changes to the Mine Health and Safety Act, which is to stipulate jail sentences for chief executives who are found guilty of contravening safety regulations.
Werksmans Attorneys mining health and safety law expert Wessel Badenhorst told Mining Mx last week that the industry should soon expect an increase in safety-related prosecutions as the Department of Mineral Resources gears up to give teeth to the act.
The law makes provision for the prosecution and jailing of chief executives. According to Badenhorst, it has also become standard practice for chief executives to be called in by the department in cases of serious safety incidents.
Department spokesman Zingaphi Jakuja said on Friday that the act would be reviewed to not only strengthen enforcement provisions, but to simplify the administrative system for the issuing of fines and to reinforce penalties. The review aimed to remove ambiguities in certain definitions and expressions; and to effect certain amendments to ensure consistency with other laws.
“Once parliamentary processes have been completed and the bill ascends to an act, the department will then implement the changes in line with the presidential proclamation and provisions of the implementation of the act.”
Jakuja said there had been several prosecutions as a result of contraventions of the act but could not provide details at the time of going to print.
Last year the department budgeted R145 million for prosecutions and hired a legal expert to pursue cases of possible safety breaches.
The Chamber of Mines’ safety and sustainable development adviser, Sietse van der Woude, said the major risks remained falling ground and accidents related to the use of transport and machinery.
He said the industry’s priorities for this year included the strengthening of an incident investigating system to pinpoint blame and weaknesses.
Earlier this month, the department announced that mining fatalities dropped by 24 percent last year – to 128 from 168.
The Chamber of Mines said that 40 000 safety representatives would be trained in the next four years as part of an initiative to curb fatalities. Jakuja said the mining industry must reduce the fatalities by at least 20 percent a year to achieve international performance standards by 2013.
Badenhorst said because mining was a specialist and highly technical field, efforts by the department, including the recent appointment of a specialist senior advocate, would go a long way in improving the state’s ability to present the technical evidence needed in mining prosecution matters.
“There has not in the past been a specialist criminal prosecution team within the offices of the National Prosecuting Authority.”
Badenhorst said the act was amended in 2008 to increase the maximum fine that could be imposed on a mining company to R1m per incident.
“There are many examples of miners, mine overseers, shift overseers, and mine managers being charged criminally for violations of the Mine Health and Safety Act, but successful prosecutions are dependent on the facts of each case.”
Badenhorst said some mining chief executives remained unconvinced of the business imperatives of safer mining and that South Africa’s aging mines posed a growing corporate governance dilemma for mining companies.
On the department’s appointment of senior legal counsel, Badenhorst said it would allow the department to ask the right questions and arrive at the correct conclusions.