Hermanus wants mining safety enforcement debate

Prof May Hermanus, CSIR director, and former chief inspector of mines.
Prof May Hermanus, CSIR director, and former chief inspector of mines.

CSIR director and former chief inspector of mines, Prof May Hermanus, called for a mining safety enforcement debate.

As OHS risk profiles change, so mining safety enforcement and management would change, requiring re-skilling of most mining employees, she said at the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) Minesafe conference in Ekurhuleni in September 2016.

Prof Hermanus said the Mine Health and Safety Act had introduced health and safety risk management systems; as well as health and safety milestones; regulations; skills development programmes; and Section 54 safety stoppages, together raising mining safety to the level of the USA.

The stop-and-fix approach could follow a zero tolerance ‘broken windows maintenance enforcement’ policy, promoting general law and order by “preventing small crimes, such as vandalism and toll-jumping, thus preventing more serious crimes.”

Toll-jumping in a USA and Canadian context, means avoiding public transport fares by jumping over ticket turnstiles. South Africans understand the term as refusal to register or pay the hated urban highway e-tolls (as labour union Cosatu advised their members, and as public pressure group OUTA advised the public); or driving alternative routes to avoid e-tolls, AARTO correspondence, and the criminilisation that is expected to follow.

Prof Hermanus is the Natural Resources and Environment executive director at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The CSIR was involved in the design and implementation of the controversial Waste Information System (WIS), and the controversial e-toll system.

She told Sheqafrica.com that “industry needs an open conversation about the inspectorate’s approach to regulation and enforcement. There are two opposing views: that strong action is needed to get the sector to prioritise safety and health; against the view that strong action is damaging to the sector.

“This question of enforcement links to the issue of underlying risk. I understand the current regulatory approach as similar to the ‘broken window’ policy in the USA, where strong action by the regulator created an atmosphere of lawfulness and order,” Prof Hermanus said.

“I wonder whether this policy is a good fit for mining safety and health. The merits and the limits of enforcement methods should be clarified in the debate that we need to have.” (see a list of mining inspectors’ powers under the MHS Act, Section 54, in an Appendix below this report).

“We also need a debate on how to get the most benefit from resources, before they run out. As mines mechanise, and as they close down, occupational health, and public health and safety issues will change,” said Prof Hermanus.

“I am asking the OHS community how they plan to respond to these challenges.”

Mining safety profile will change

Prof Hermanus further told Sheqafica.com that the changing risk profile in the mining sector was associated with changes in output and employment levels, in gold, platinum, coal, iron ore and diamond mining.

“Gold mining has been in decline for a long time, and over the entire period to which the Mining Charter milestones apply. Gold mining accounts for much of the risk in the SA mining sector.

“The underlying risk profile of the mining sector is also changing. Improved mining safety and health outcomes seems due to decline in gold mining, thus initiatives that have been taken to address OHS risks do not account fully for the scale of improvement achieved.

“It is important to have clarity about which interventions are working where, and to what degree,” she said.

“Does the OHS community take account of large scale changes, in planning, mining safety interventions, and investment of resources? OHS efforts should address current and future challenges.”

Table from SP Pearton; The application of pumpable emulsions in narrow-reef stoping. Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, vol.115 n6, June 2015. Platinum Conference papers.
Table from SP Pearton; The application of pumpable emulsions in narrow-reef stoping. Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, vol.115 n6, June 2015. Platinum Conference papers.

Mining safety stoppages out of proportion?

Mining inspectors enforce general maintenance by using Section 54 work stoppage orders. However such drastic measures were not always required.

Local mining had already lost R834-m in production from January to June 2016, to mining safety work stoppage orders (see a separate report on the state’s response to these complaints from the industry, on Sheqafrica.com).

Some stoppage orders followed transgressions such as:

  • “Smell of tobacco and ash in the winder room;
  • Eucalyptus oil without a person for the medication;
  • A Section 23 notice posted with incorrect wording /spelling,” or
  • “Safety harness found lying on the ground.”

(See a reader’s comment below).

Mining safety research bodies

Regarding mining safety research, Prof Hermanus said at Minesafe that since the launch of government’s Mining Phakisa, or ‘Hurry-up’ (with jobs and service delivery), “there had been a lot of discussion about the need to establish a mining cluster, to enhancing research and development, and to establishes local mining equipment manufacturing capacity, to create job opportunities that may be lost to mechanisation.”

The Mine Health and Safety Act already provides for several mining safety instruments, such as the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC), and the Safety in Mines Research Advisory Council (Simrac). However their research is not widely published.

Some research that may reflect badly on the mining industry or the state, has been rumoured to have been delayed.

Prof Hermanus said the Mine Health and Safety Act was two decades old, and already outdated by technology. However it had recently been amended, and supplemented by the Mining Charter (see earlier reports on Sheqafrica.com, by using the Search function).

Despite several business, state, and labour initiatives, there is not yet a turn in the tide of occupational diseases and their legacy, including massive civil class suits for compensation to miners suffering from asbestosis, silicosis, TB, and HIV /Aids (see earlier reports on Sheqafrica.com).

Despite general compliance, most of the key mining safety and health targets in the Mining Charter have not been reached (see relevant reports on Sheqafrica.com).

Mining safety suffers from social unrest

If there is no substantial change in mining technology, platinum mining could stop in 2033, and gold mining in 2029.

Prof Hermanus told Minesafe that labour-intensive of mining of gold and platinum, was “problematic”. Mineworkers had on average 12 to 15 dependants. Labour unions generally oppose mechanisation.

The skills development programmes that Prof Hermanus mentioned among the sustainability gains of legislation, have been slow to take effect. The draft curriculum standard for occupational training courses for mining and general industrial Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner, which the Mine Qualifications Authority (MQA) Seta hosted two years ago (see the training standard in a separate post on Sheafrica.com), is delayed at the QCTO, and has not yet been adopted by training providers.

Mining risks, such as ore body characteristics, geology, extraction methods, skills levels, equipment, and general business environment, require new risk management methods, including factors of wellness and general quality of life, Prof Hermanus said.

Comment on Section 55 and Section 54 stoppages

Johan had earlier written on Sheqafrica.com: “DMR inspectors are using a Section 54 much too easily, where a Section 55 would have been in order. Here are findings from one of their section 54’s, issued to a mine:
‘-Smoking in the winder room (smell of cigarette and ash found).
‘-Medication (eucalyptus oil) found, and no responsible person for the medication.
‘-Section 23 posted with an incorrect wording /spelling’…

“Here is another finding, and another section 54 stoppage:

‘-Safety harness found lying on the ground in the dirt.

‘-Remedy: Re-train all employees on the use of a safety harness.’

  • Sources; CSIR. SAIMM Journal. SP Pearton et al. Sheqafrica.com. Miningweekly. Investorseurope.

APPENDIX;

MINING INSPECTORS’ POWERS TO DEAL WITH DANGEROUS CONDITIONS, under MHS Act, section 54:

(1)  If an inspector has reason to believe that any occurrence, practice or condition at a mine endangers or may endanger the health or safety of any person at the mine, the inspector may give any instruction necessary to protect the health or safety of persons at the mine, including but not limited to an instruction that –

(a)  operations at the mine or a part of the mine be halted;

(b)  the performance of any act or practice at the mine or a part of the mine be suspended or halted, and may place conditions on the performance of that act or practice;

(c)  the employer must take the steps set out in the instruction, within the specified period, to rectify the occurrence, practice or condition; or

(d)  all affected persons, other than those who are required to assist in taking steps referred to in paragraph (c), be moved to safety.

(2)  An instruction under subsection (1) must be given to the employer or a person designated by the employer or, in their absence, the most senior employee available at the mine to whom the instruction can be issued.

(3)  An inspector may issue an instruction under subsection (1) either orally or in writing. If it is issued orally, the inspector must confirm it in writing and give it to the person concerned at the earliest opportunity.

(4)  If an instruction issued under subsection (1) is not issued to the employer, the inspector must give a copy of the instruction to the employer at the earliest opportunity.

(5)  Any instruction issued under subsection (1)(a) must either be confirmed, varied or set aside by the Chief Inspector of Mines as soon as practicable.

(6)  Any instruction issued under subsection (1)(a) 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.

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Edmond Furter

Editor at Sheqafrica.com
Edmond Furter is the editor of Sheqafrica.com. He is a freelance technical journalist, and has won six journalism awards. He specialises in industrial, business, and cultural content in web, journal, and book formats.