Posted on: November 21, 2011 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

SA is stepping up mining health and safety inspections to enforce compliance in 2011 December, while reviewing the Mine Health and Safety Act by June 2012.

SA Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) minister Susan Shabangu noted at a mine health and safety summit in Kempton Park that mining business displayed ‘a culture of non compliance to minimum standards’ and ‘a culture of profit before safety’.

The state plans to increase DMR mining safety inspection powers and penalties, as well as DOH health inspection measures and penalties.

SA Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi promised a separate crackdown and increased regulation on mining health and safety compliance. “I do not believe in self regulation because it does not usually yield results”, he said at the mining summit.

The SA Department of Health (DOH) also plans ‘improved cross border health management initiatives in the Southern African Development Community (SADC)” against HIV and tuberculosis (TB) infection among migrant mine workers.

Mining occupational illness rates, including silicosis and tuberculosis (TB), remain high, mainly due to delays in the onset of symptoms and disease, and partly since ill migrant workers mostly return to labour sending areas (LSAs).

Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi said “South Africans are living shorter lives because of diseases, and this affects the economy… HIV, Aids and TB are the country’s biggest problem, which also affected mining.”

Civil mining compensation claims

Civil compensation lawyer Richard Spoor, who had won several civil cases against the statutory compensation ban on civil compensation against asbestos and gold mine employers, and who is involved in representing hundreds of steel sector workers who claim to suffer from occupational diseases, said employers had exposed workers to dust, and failed to provide regular medical checks for silicosis.

A series of civil compensation cases and claims in recent years, could reduce mining investment as employers face the expense of more training and enforced stoppages to respond to loss incidents.

Mining inspectors ‘audit’ and stop work

DMR action would be taken against mines that do not comply with provisions in the Mine Health and Safety Act. DMR had increased inspections and enforced safety stoppage notices in the first phase of the recession in 2009, and looks set to do so again in 2012.

DMR inspectors refer to their inspections as ‘audits’, and claim that they want to ‘lead’ employers and workers to compliance, but safety specialists point out that there are major differences between inspections and audits.

Employers are responsible for their own health and safety management systems, including internal audits, hiring of external auditors, and using audit results to improve workplace conditions, procedures, and ultimately systems.

The 2011 November mining health and safety summit conference aimed to review progress in the last three years, since a similar event in 2008.

SA mining fatalities stood at 112 for the first 10 months of 2011. Minister Shabangu noted a link between profits and fatalities. She advises mining employers to pay higher salaries, instead of paying production bonuses, which induce miners to work towards higher production, at the expense of their own health and safety exposure.

Mining deaths have steadily reduced in the last half century, due in part to small employment, and due in part to better training, systems and management. Having reached relatively small numbers, however, mining fatality rates and mining injury rates seem to have come stuck at around 100 deaths per year.

Mines should ‘buy seismic detectors’

SA Mineral Resources minister Susan Shabangu explained the move; “I do not understand how mining companies that make billions in profit fail even to buy the latest available and proven ground movement monitoring and detection equipment.”

Detection equipment was “used widely and could cut down the number of potential fatalities… Safety is the responsibility of each and every person who sets his or her foot in the precinct of mines,” the minister said. The summit was themed on ‘zero harm’ and delegates included mining labour union officials.

“We will begin with heightening health and safety audits during the festive season and the first quarter of the New Year as this is the period that is prone to lapses.”

SA Chamber of Mines president Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi urged stakeholders in mining to work together in ensuring safety of workers.

Safety numbers and climate

Safety researcher David Broadbent head earlier advised mining safety managers that small numbers and short periods, like national mining fatality rates over three years, were likely to be erratic, and should not be used to calculate trends.

While the number of incidents and fatalities remained relatively static, and leading indicators like work conditions, technology, systems and industrial climate were not improving, incident severity was largely a matter of chance.

Mining safety trainer and consultant, Francois Smith, had advised safety practitioners at a Sashef workshop in November to measure and managing leading indicators, in a climate of open and honest communication, instead of depending only on lagging indicators like incident reports and investigations.

Safety design, research into similar oganisations, and disaster analysis are part of the paradigm shift in high risk industries like mining, exploration, petrochemicals and nuclear power generation, following a number of major disasters in the last two years.

Many safety practitioners still use the Heinrich Triangle that assumes ratios of 1:10:30:600 between incident numbers of different severity, while incident severity and frequency numbers may have no correlation, especially at site or corporate level.

“Reducing the frequency of minor incidents do not guarantee that major risks are lowered. The inverse also applies, reducing major incidents to not guarantee that minor incidents would reduce”, Smith explained.

Many root cause analyses still seek to blame incidents on unsafe actions by workers, while workplace conditions, processes, systems, management, and culture are typically flawed, and contribute to incidents. Many incident investigation reports and audit reports continue to be ‘rationalised’ and ignored.

SHEQafrica.com editor SHEQafrica noted at the Sashef event that South Africa lacked centres of excellence for safety research, and diploma level health and safety management training.

Mining safety research reports by Simrac, increasing access to mining safety training by SA Chamber of Mines structures, and Mosh pilot projects compensate for the generally low level of South African education.

Some safety degree programmes are offered locally, but few mining safety practitioners have sufficient employer backing to gain degrees.

PHOTO; SA Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) minister Susan Shabangu notes ‘a mining culture of profit before safety’ and plans to increase mining safety inspection powers and penalties, in tandem with increased DOH inspection measures and penalties.

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