According to reports the LC has overturned a safety stoppage at AngloGold Ashanti’s Kopanang mine.   The aggressive behaviour of safety officials when implementing stoppages has been addressed.  ‘For the past two years, mining executives have become increasingly outspoken in their frustration with the way mine safety has been handled, with shutdowns ordered by the department’s inspectors of entire mines for violations of the Mine Health and Safety Act in sections of the mines’.

“It is also astonishing, given the content of their answering affidavit and the submissions made on their behalf, that the respondents clearly fail to appreciate the conceptual framework within which they are required to discharge their duties,” he said, pointing out that in the department’s submission “proportionality was irrelevant’ because it did not feature in Section 54 of the MHSA which entailed shutting down mines.

Judge rebukes state on mine-safety stoppages: Allan Seccombe in BusinessLive on 15 November 2016 published by Business Day

Further excerpts

The Chamber of Mines has estimated the cost of the safety stoppages between 2012 and 2015 at R13.6bn in lost revenue, excluding the losses incurred in restarting mines.  The trend has nearly doubled the value put on shutdowns, rising to R4.8bn last year from R2.6bn in 2012.

“We believe that the Labour Court has, in this case, clarified the limits on the powers of the inspectorate,” the chamber’s CE, Roger Baxter, said on Monday.

It was in line with the industry’s approach in which it has sought to persuade the department to avoid unjustified stoppages that were compounding losses in already trying financial times, Baxter said.

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In a judgment handed down on November 4, Judge Andre van Niekerk said the order to shut Kopanang near Orkney in North West on October 17 at a cost of R9.5m a day due to violations involving explosives and tramming at the 44 level of the mine was disproportionate.

The 91 affected workers represented just 2% of the mine’s 4,218 employees and the 28 railway line switches that came under scrutiny were a fraction of the 206 switches used by Kopanang’s trams.

“It is patently clear therefore that [the affected] 44 level comprises a very small portion of the total operation and conditions there are not axiomatically representative of conditions elsewhere on the mine,” Van Niekerk said, ordering the lifting of the safety stoppage of the entire mine, but retaining the suspension of the offending level.

“The instructions insofar as they relate to a prohibition across the entire mine in respect of explosives and tramming were out of all proportion to the issues identified by the third respondent.  At worst, they should have been confined to level 44,” he said.

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Ben Magara, CE at the world’s third-biggest platinum miner Lonmin, said it had lost 164 production days in its financial year to end-September in 50 section 54 stoppages compared to 173 days in 36 stoppages in the previous year.

“Section 54 stoppages were enforced more broadly and were taking longer to lift in the first nine months of the year.  Not only do safety stoppages affect production, they also have a negative impact on safety routines and care must be taken to safely shut down work areas so that on their return, workers do not enter a work area that is hazardous,” Magara said.