Posted on: September 19, 2008 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

South Africa. For many years, as a result of conscientious effort by the industry, the mining sector saw significant safety improvements. In the space of a decade, fatalities and fatality rates were halved. However, this positive trend was not sustained in 2006 or last year and while the improvement resumed during the first half of this year, there has been renewed attention on Health and Safety in mining.

The Chamber Of Mines’ Position

In the legislative arena, the minerals and energy department has produced the Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill. The proposed law contains a great deal that the Chamber of Mines finds acceptable, but there are some provisions that demand amendment to ensure a continuation of the improvement of Health and Safety.

It is the chamber’s belief that prevention is preferable to punishing individuals and organisations after the fact. Punitive measures may bring positive short-term results but sustained improvements call for a continuing focus on preventative measures.

Retaining a fine balance between preventative and punitive measures is something the mining industry would most urgently like to see in any legislation designed to enhance employee Health and Safety. The bill fails to answer this challenge, instead placing a strong emphasis on additional punitive measures. An unintended consequence of this approach is the likelihood that certain employers will concentrate exclusively on complying with the letter of the law rather than implementing effective best practice.

For instance, the maximum administrative fine that is proposed is R1m. This is five times more than the current maximum, and means an administrative official can impose a far higher fine than a magistrate can impose after a proper hearing. The imposition of such a fine could force the closure of small or marginal mines.

NUM’s Proposals

The chamber is particularly concerned about the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) proposal that the constitutional protection of every accused person, namely the presumption of innocence, should not apply to senior managers (but should ironically continue to apply to every other person on a mine). If this proposal is accepted, senior managers would have to prove their innocence, rather than the state proving their guilt. It is proposals such as these that will further inhibit professionals from entering and remaining in this industry, which will ironically make it even more difficult to mine safer and healthier.

NUM is also proposing that if a person died or was injured as a result of the employer not complying with one of the many duties in the legislation, the employer would not be able to use as a defence that the death or injury was in fact caused by any individual, for instance another employee.

The chamber agrees that there should be prosecutions for gross or repeat violations of health and safety laws. But the fact that there are currently very few prosecutions can certainly not form any basis for introducing even more onerous provisions.

Legislation is a limited driver of behavioural change, and the chamber strongly believes significant improvements in Safety and Health can come about only through effective leadership from the top.

Mzolisi Diliza is CE of the Chamber of Mines. Read his full opinion piece at Business Day.

Source: Business Day

By: Mzolisi Diliza

Posted:18 September 2008