The
South African department of minerals and energy (DME) and the SA Chamber of
Mines may be calling in top mine safety experts in a bid to address rising mine
deaths in the country.

The
major trade union NUM told Mineweb Thursday
that mine worker deaths totaled 221 in 2007 – an alleged 11% increase on the
death toll of 201 in 2006.

Stakeholders
in mining safety have suggested that international safety expert Jay Greenspan
from Washington, D.C. and Professor May
Hermanus, former chief inspector of mines, be recruited to assist the parties
in making mining in the country safer. Chamber of Mines Safety and Sustainable Mining
Advisor, Sietse van der Woude, said Friday that the suggestion to bring in the
experts has been made but no final agreement had been reached yet.

He
said the Chamber, the DME and labour would meet this month to discuss how
safety could be addressed in 2008.

The
department’s presidential mine safety audit would take most of the year and
comprised of both legal and technical inspections. Van der Woude did not
foresee the audit having a big impact on companies’ production and performance
in 2008, as those who did not comply with standards would be given a period to
address areas of concern.

The
department had undertaken to practice “good regulatory, progressive
enforcement” that included considering the track record of a transgressing
company. Its enforcement policy which allowed it to close mines that posed
safety risks was to be reviewed.

Van
der Woude said the biggest safety risks in mining were falls of ground which
occurred with rock falls and seismic activity and machine and road accidents
similar to incidents in other industries or above ground.

The
2003 agreement to reduce mine deaths in the country by 20% every year was in
place until 2015, but would be reviewed in 2009. Van der Woude said this target
was reached in 2005, but not in 2006 and 2007.

AQUARIS
SAFETY AUDITS

Meanwhile,
the NUM and department have protested against platinum miner Aquarius’ claims
that its Marikana and Everest mines have passed presidential safety audits.

In
a statement, the DME said that it was highly dismayed by Aquarius’ announcement
that it has received a clean bill of health from the department. “Although the
DME has started its legal audits at a few South African mines, it has not yet
released any reports on findings at these mines,” it said. “The audit conducted
at Marikana could not be completed as DME officials were informed that all
staff ‘had been fired’ as a result of illegal strike action.”

NUM
national spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the false statements were a
reflection of how “playful” the industry was when dealing with the lives of
ordinary people.