12. Health and safety regulation
Mining companies, especially large-scale firms operating in a foreign jurisdiction, are generally concerned to maintain a good health and safety record on their mines. The injury or death of workers is usually well publicised and carries a high reputational risk factor. Therefore, companies want labour regulation that is clear in terms of responsibilities of the mine, the workers, and the regulator.
Regulation should be specific to the type of mining being undertaken, for example underground mining versus opencast operations, or different types of mineral where different safety issues are at play. The role of the mining inspectorate in enforcing health and safety regulation is critical and mine inspection teams need to have the skills, resources and authority to implement regulation effectively.
Policy in practice: Health and safety legislation in South Africa
In South Africa, government pursued policies aimed at creating safer working conditions for miners and has adopted a partnership approach to address these issues.
A policy was developed to ensure that all parties with a stake in mine health and safety participate in measures to address problems. Government, organised labour and the Chamber of Mine hold regular meetings to ensure that the regulatory system is effective and adaptable to changing work practises and technology. Continuous improvement is required, and this includes ensuring that the mining industry complies with all relevant legislation.
Significant progress has been made, albeit off a low base. Data from the gold and coal sector shows how significant the impact of interventions has been.
In tandem, efforts to reduce the effects of mine dust on tuberculosis and silicosis as well as efforts directed toward reducing HIV infections have escalated significantly. Many mines are working with government to reduce the incidence of these diseases. This is an evolution over the past 20 years since the country moved from an apartheid system to a multi-party democracy.