Address by Mr Godfrey Oliphant, MP, Deputy Minister of mineral resources of South Africa, at the 5th International Mine Rescue Conference and the 3rd China International Workplace Emergency Management Forum: Dongcheng District, Beijing
24 Oct 2011
Luo Lin, Minister, State Administration of Work Safety
Sun Huashan, Vice Minister, State Administration of Work Safety
Wang Dexue, Vice Minister, State Administration of Work Safety
Xu Zuyuan, Vice Minister, Ministry of Transport
Representatives from various entities responsible for mine rescue
Ladies and gentlemen
We are pleased to have been invited to these familiar grounds of our sister country to meet and share experiences with colleagues from Africa, Asia and the Americas on matters of mine rescue which have increasingly assumed global significance. Our country’s mining industry has evolved over a period of more than a century. This means we have now reached a stage where we extract our minerals deep beneath the belly of the earth, a situation which has exposed our workers to the dangers and the inescapable risks associated with deep level mining.
We recognise, acknowledge and pay tribute to ordinary mineworkers from around the globe who continue to toil and make a living for themselves and their families in these difficult conditions.
We in South Africa are blessed with a considerable wealth of mineral reserves. In a number of these minerals such as chrome, manganese, and platinum, amongst others, we have a dominant share of the globally known reserves. This creates golden opportunities for us to develop not only our mining sector, but also expand our industrial base, drawn from our established world class mining sector, as well as enhance our country’s financial sector’s robustness.
However, these inherently important advantages have created an extraordinary need for us to create responsible mining methods by sharing technologies with our allies, improving the health and safety of our workers and championing the protection of our environment for future generations. In this regard the COP17 Durban meeting later this year is an important statement of our country’s commitment to contribute to the building of a better world bereft of the vagaries of the negative impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
We were recently reminded, so graphically, of the dangers associated with mining when the world held its breath following the ordeal of 33 Chilean miners trapped 700 metres underground in San Jose copper and gold mine for more than two months. Working together with other sister countries, we were able to use modern technology to assist the people of Chile to rescue most of the affected workers.
We are accordingly pleased to be in Beijing, the metropolitan city of a major country of the developing south that still faces massive challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment that are happening despite the spectacular progress that this country is making in tackling massive socio economic challenges.
In fact, the future supply of energy and mineral resources will require significant investment to replace existing capacity and develop additional resources. All of these factors, coupled with other challenges facing the modern world, point to growth based on the concentration of mineral resources in countries such as ours. This means that we have to manage these factors as we deal with the associated risks of raising interdependence on trade since our transformatory democratic agenda of the post-1994 order.
All of these forces are at play at the time when our country is emerging from centuries of a rankly unjust socio-economic order that always favoured a minority and not the majority of the population. The democratic post-1994 governments have had to deal with the stubborn legacies of that unjust system in a whole range of sectors including the mining industry, which has been the backbone of our economy for decades. We have subsequently resorted to - and will continue to use - the might of the machinery of state to improve the lives of all our people, most notably the poor and previously neglected, for the better. That massive improvement is non-negotiable. It must happen, and soon, otherwise we shall face social unrest on a large scale, and we will betray what happened in 1994 in South Africa.
Health and safety performance
We are emerging from a past of appalling performance in so far as mine rescue is concerned. This has had the effect of undermining our role in an age where open economies and competition for markets is paramount. In 2000 alone, for instance, there were 285 fatalities that were recorded in our country’s mining industry and that figure came down to 127 in 2010. This represents a more than 50% reduction in fatalities over a 10 year period. But they must come down further. We are currently experiencing a higher number of fatalities in the gold and platinum sectors which are clearly caused by high prices of these commodities.
We are taking steps to ensure that over and above the licence to operate requirements, we are strengthening our compliance and inspections of our country’s minerals. We are doing this in a bid to ensure that we achieve the necessary balance between production and safety. We have had to use instruments such as legislation and regulation to ensure that we nip in the bud those cases where there are mounting deaths. This must be done whilst increasing our attractiveness as a smooth, predictable regulatory regime, so as to draw investments to our mining industry.
This year we have had 100 fatalities in the period leading up to 10 October 2011. The major contributors to these accidents were rockfalls and rockbursts, railbound and trackless mobile machinery. We have accordingly developed strategies to deal with these major contributors to fatalities. Our ultimate goal is zero occupational diseases, fatalities and injuries. We believe that a state of zero harm can be achieved with all our stakeholders, namely labour and business.
We are attending to these whilst we are equally concerned about the number of occupational diseases in the mining sector. In this regard there were about 4 400 reported cases of pulmonary tuberculosis, 1 700 case of silicosis, 1 200 cases of noise-induced hearing loss and 29 cases of asbestosis. Most of the cases of tuberculosis are due to the silica dust in the gold mines. The last of the asbestosis mines in our country were closed 20 years ago and yet even to this day there are people who are still being diagnosed with asbestosis which is being compounded by the prevalence of cases of HIV/Aids which we are tackling, amongst others, through the proposed national health insurance scheme. This highlights the latency period between exposure and diagnosis.
Mine health and safety legislation
As part of our transformation agenda, in May 1994, President Nelson Mandela appointed the Leon Commission of Inquiry to conduct a comprehensive review and to make recommendations on the state of health and safety on mines. The then repealed Minerals Act focused predominantly on safety issues in the mining industry with no emphasis on promoting the occupational health of miners. This deficiency provided the impetus for the Commission to recommend, amongst other things, the drafting of a new Mine Health and Safety Act.
The Act made provision for a comprehensive legal framework to create an improved health and safety working environment. The new Act also focused on protecting the health of workers by emphasising, among other things, medical surveillance and occupational hygiene, the prevention of rockfalls and rockbursts, strategies to prevent methane and coal dust explosions as well as restructuring of the research institutions. We are currently striving to maintain the necessary balance between addressing these areas and the need to ensure that the mining industry functions efficiently.
Accordingly, my department pioneered the Mine Health and Safety Act which was ultimately promulgated in 1996. This was done to ensure the health and safety of mine workers who were the worst sufferers under the conditions that were prevalent at the time.
Accordingly the following regulations were put in place:
- Mining companies are expected to draft codes of practice based on the guidelines, which are revised every 3 years to ensure international benchmarking. These also stipulate that every employer of every underground mine must maintain one team where there are between 100 and 1 100 employees; two teams where employees number between 1 101 and 3 600; and three teams for employees numbering between 3 601 and 8 100.
- Compel an employer of an underground mine to enter into a contract with a mine rescue service.
- Stipulate the requirements for an organisation to become a mine rescue service provider by providing training for rescue team members.
- Each mine must be equipped with a detection and early warning system in order to ensure that emergencies are detected as early as possible and persons warned timeously.
- The mines to provide appropriate emergency medical care and facilities such as, amongst others, the provision of suitably trained medical personnel, response times, capabilities to treat as well as evacuate persons with multiple injuries as well as the establishment of evacuation and escape procedures which are expected to be part of the arsenal of effective management of emergencies to mitigate against further loss of life and property.
Currently there are three Mine Rescue Services Stations in the Gauteng province and plans are afoot to establish an additional one.
All brigades personnel are expected to undergo initial medical examination, periodicalmedical examination every six months, and pre-operational or rescue medical examination. They are then consequently subjected to hostile environments from time to time. It is important that they pass the heat tolerance test especially for gold mines and the work load test.
These interventions are crucial given the reality that even leading members of these teams are not immune from such factors.
South Africa will continue to collaborate with sister countries in Asia, Latin America and fellow African states in a bid to ensure that we press on in searching for better ways in which our mines can be utilised in a safe and productive manner. We can exchange ideas and programmes - including people - and learn from other countries with regard to legislation, education and training, and technological developments.
We will also continue making our contribution in the International Mine Rescue Body. We believe that this gathering is what Lao-tzu (The Way of Lao-tzu, 604 BC -531 BC) referred to as “the journey of a thousand miles (that) begins beneath one’s feet” and I regret very much that in translating it to English the real meaning of this important phrase is being lost.
I thank you!
Issued by: Department of Mineral Resources
24 Oct 2011
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