South Africa: Amendment of Mine Health and Safety Act (No. 29 of 1996)
In South Africa, the Mine Health and Safety Act, 1996 (Act No. 29 of 1996) as amended (“the act”), providing for the protection of the health and safety of employees and other persons affected by the South African mining industry has been amended. The current amendment is related to Chapter 11 of the Regulations in terms of act. The exit certificate in section 17 must include details regarding a least the following: particulars of mine, particulars of employees and exit medical summary.
The Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate was established in terms of the act, for the purpose of executing the statutory mandate of the Department of Mineral Resources to safeguard the health and safety of mine employees and communities affected by mining operations. Their activities are gears to actively contribute to sustainable development and growth; regulate the minerals sector; promote health and safety in the minerals sector; efficient and effective service delivery and ensure financial stewardship.
South Africa produces 10% of the world’s gold, and has 40% of the world’s known resources. It’s estimated that 36 000 tons of undeveloped resources (about one third of the world’s unmined gold) still remains. These ores are increasingly difficult to exploit due to the great depths where they are situated and their fairly low-grade quality
Mine safety is a matter of continuing concern worldwide while there has been a steady improvement in safety performance of the South African Mining industry during the past 10 years, stakeholders agree that the fatality and injury rates remain high, especially in underground gold mines. This necessitates a concerted effort to improve the prevention of occupational accidents.
In terms of act the employer must guarantee, as far as reasonably practicable, that the mine is designed, constructed and equipped to provide conditions for safe operation and a healthy working environment; including all equipment to achieve those conditions; the mine is to be commissioned in such a way that employees can perform their work without endangering the health and safety of themselves or of any other person; Every employer must prepare a document that describes the organisation of work together with a policy concerning the protection of employees’ health and safety at work; in concurrence the employee must take reasonable care to protect their own health and safety; report promptly to their immediate supervisor any situation which the employee believes presents a risk to the health or safety.
Mine safety stoppages in South Africa are enforced under section 54 of the act. This provision allows a safety inspector mandated by the South African Department of Mineral Resources to issue an instruction halting/suspending mining operations should the inspector believe that there is an occurrence, practice or condition at a mine which endangers or may endanger a person’s health or safety. This section permits a safety inspector to objectively establish that a state of affairs exists which will endanger the health or safety of any person at the mine and only issue a suspension instruction where it is necessary to protect the health or safety of that person. Any instruction issued is effective from the time fixed by the inspector and remains in force until set aside by the Chief Inspector of Mines or until the inspector’s instructions have been complied with. South African mine owners have called for greater restraint in the application and enforcement of Section 54 to achieve a better balance between the needs to improve safety at South African mines and the need for profitable mining operations to sustain the South African economy. While South African miners are committed to reducing fatalities, the government’s position has met with increased concern on the part of South African mine owners because of the manner in which the policy is being administered.
The Government has emphasized that it will not compromise on Mining Safety. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has pledged that his government will “vigorously support and entrench a culture of zero harm” in the industry. Significant gains have been made in improving safety over a number of years, and preventable accidents cannot be allowed to erode the hard-earned gains that have been made over time. It is envisaged that greater cooperation can contribute to the safety efforts. While Government continues to engage in constructive discussions to engage with both business and labour on how to improve on safety. Regional inspectors are continuously working with employers and trade unions to address specific problems in their areas. Safety operations also include working together with international mining consultants and reviewing mine design and support parameters to present best practice guidelines to the department in respect of mines.