Mine Health and Safety Act showdown imminent

The government, trade unions and the mining industry seem to be heading for a collision over the suspension of two sections in the Mine Health and Safety Act.

The amendments of sections 50 (7), about the closing down of a mining accident scene by inspectors and 86 (A), about fining mining executives or jailing them if found to have acted negligently, were approved by Parliament in 2008, but suspended immediately after the industry approached government, pleading for time to consult.

Chamber of Mines senior executive Frans Barker said yesterday the industry was not comfortable with some of the language used in the two clauses and managers had since submitted alternative wordings to the Department of Mineral Resources.

“Looking at a history behind these two clauses, they are introducing very punitive measures in regard to health and safety in mining,” he said. “They do not strike a right balance between punitive and preventative measures, and that could scare off managers from sharing information related to ­accidents.”

Fred Gona, chairperson of the portfolio committee on mining, told The New Age earlier in the week the committee would “make noise” when Parliament reopened next month to gain support for the retention of the clauses. They were necessary for the department to curb shocking fatalities within the industry.

This week, the Chamber of Mines announced that the number of fatalities was down from 168 in 2009 to 128 last year.

Frans Baleni, the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, said they were in support of the contested sections in the act. “Our view is that there is nothing wrong with these clauses.

“It is about preventing accidents and reducing the carnage of deaths we are experiencing within the industry. They pose no threats either to the industry or our members.”

Barker said the chamber was not totally against the clauses. “If an accident does happen and managers are found to have acted negligently, the chamber will support any punitive measures.

“What we are saying is that managers cannot be held responsible for everything that happens in the mines.”

The Department of Mineral Resources spokesperson, Zingaphi Jakuja, confirmed that the department was reviewing the Act and a look at the two ­sections would form part of the exercise.

Source: The New Age

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