The state’s uncompromising stance on Safety standards has undoubtedly contributed significantly to the reduction in accidents and related deaths in SA’s mines. But has it taken things too far?
The platinum sector has been particularly hard hit recently by production stoppages in terms of section 54 of the Mine Health and Safety Act, with several companies blaming these for lower production and profits. Anglo American Platinum had 81 Safety stoppages last year, compared with 36 in 2010.
In terms of the law, an inspector may issue a notice to shut a mine in the event of a fatality, or if there is evidence of transgressions that could lead to fatality or injury.
There is no doubt that such stringent Safety regulations have reduced the number of fatalities, but there is a point at which ratcheting up the pressure ceases to save lives and starts threatening the financial viability of the operation.
The inefficient or vindictive application of these regulations could place the entire platinum industry at risk. The purpose of closing a mine is ostensibly to ensure that Safety regulations are met and further accidents are avoided; it should not be a punitive measure applied arbitrarily against law-abiding companies that are unfortunate enough to have accidents.
The fact is that mining is dangerous. The government’s goal of zero fatalities is commendable but practically impossible. Even if Safety regulations are adhered to, human error and acts of nature cannot be eliminated. From a regulatory perspective, there must be a tipping point between improving Safety and strangling an industry.
It is reasonable to assume that the extreme costs associated with Safety-related stoppages already serve as a significant incentive for management to make safety a priority. Indeed, the mining sector’s main complaint is not over the issuing of section 54 notices but about the time before they are permitted to resume production.
Mines that flout Safety regulations should be punished, but those that are compliant should not have to bear the burden of government inefficiency. It is unacceptable that the time taken for the regional department to resolve stoppages has increased from a couple of days to a week or more in some cases.
Source: Business Day Former editorial