Mineral Compliance and Inspection

4. Compliance enforcement

It is the responsibility of governments to enforce compliance with all policies relating to the sector.

Compliance may be encouraged through incentives, for example relief from taxes or royalties (the application of lower rates) as a reward for the achievement of certain objectives such as employment targets, production volumes and timelines.

Non-compliance may be penalised by financial sanctions such as fines, by suspension of certain mining activities or by restriction or cancellation of minerals rights. In extreme cases, for example significant breaches of laws relating to health, safety and environmental protection, individual workers and managers employed by mine operators may be subject to prosecution, leading to severe penalties such as imprisonment. 

Tools to enforce compliance are made available by laws, regulations and contracts. Regulatory authorities can only operate within the parameters provided within these instruments. It is therefore important that these mechanisms include carefully structured provisions for incentivising or penalising mine operators and individuals. 

Compliance enforcement in core mining inspectorate functions

The following pages give additional detail on the risks and issues that need to be considered in carrying out the core mining inspectorate functions:

A. Ensuring safe and healthy operations

B. Managing the use of explosives

C. Assuring the efficient use of mineral resources

D. Recording production volumes and activities

The overview concludes with notes on handling mining inspection visits and audits.

Potential implications of international donor support for the mining inspection function

Organisations supporting or funding the activities of governments in emerging jurisdictions now usually require that legal instruments demand compliance by mine operators with internationally recognised standards and target best practice, at least for all new mining projects, and progress towards such standards in existing operations.

A. Ensuring safe and healthy operations

Mining is inherently a high-risk activity with respect to health and safety and one of the most important functions of a Department of Inspectorate is to protect the health and safety of workers in the industry and all who may be subjected to exposure in mining.

The Extractives Hub briefing note Supplementary Guidance for Mining Inspectors gives an overview of safety risks relating to mining. These include:

  • Falls of Ground

  • Mobile equipment

  • Use of explosives

  • Ventilation

  • Shaft sinking

  • Waste rock and tailings disposal

  • Coal and ‘fiery’ mines

Managing health and safety risks

Most governments have established robust regulations to protect the health and safety of persons working in mines or directly affected by mining operations. Health and safety regulations range from highly prescriptive, i.e. laying down detailed standards and procedures, to non-prescriptive. In the latter, regulations require mine managers to assess the risks in their individual operations and put in place adequate operating procedures to manage those risks, i.e. eliminating hazards or mitigating risks to an acceptable level.

Policy in practice: Mining regulations in South Africa

The South African mining regulations are an example of largely non-prescriptive regulations and these are typically appropriate for a mature industry where operators generally employ competent personnel and have robust safety management systems and well-established standards, supported by modern equipment and technology and effective training programmes. In less mature industries, more prescriptive regulations may be required.

One of the duties of inspectors may be to scrutinise codes of practice, standards and operating procedures developed by mine operators, assess their effectiveness for managing the health and safety risks for that mine and either approve them or require them to be improved. These documents then become instruments against which compliance is monitored at that mine. 

Responsibility in mines

To effectively manage health and safety in mines, the responsibilities of individual officials need to be clearly defined. An inspector needs to know exactly who is responsible for all activities. For this reason, regulations governing mining normally lay down formal procedures for the written appointment of managers, officials and competent individuals to perform skilled or risky functions. In some cases, regulations may require approval of some appointments by the Department of Inspectorate.

Safety culture

Enforcing compliance with regulations and with formal health and safety programmes is an important tool for achieving low incident and injury rates compatible with international standards.

However, achievement of continuous improvement and a low incident rate requires the creation of a strong safety culture A good and sustainable safety culture is one in which all persons work safely all the time, not out of fear of being disciplined, but because they believe in it, they know and intend to do the right thing at all times, and individuals are prepared to help and guide their workmates to do the same.

This can only be achieved over a period of time with all parties working together and respecting each other.

Measuring safety performance

The key performance indicator for inspectorate departments is usually the annual safety record of the national mining industry.

Governments track the total fatalities experienced per annum as this figure is of social and political concern.

The most commonly used index is the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR), where lost time injuries are defined as injuries at work resulting in a person being absent from his or her normal occupation for at least one day, not including the date of the injury. The LTIFR is indexed against a base of total shifts worked in the individual mine or the industry, the common base being 1,000,000 working hours.

Frequency rates do not take account of the severity of injuries, which can be measured by total shifts lost against a similar base. Recording of statistics is open to manipulation by mine operators, who may try to conceal lost-time injuries. Some safety professionals argue that the more appropriate measure is the Total Injury Frequency Rate (TIFR) since the fact of whether a shift is lost may depend on factors other than the severity of the incident.

Additional tools and resources

OHSAS 18001 is an occupational health and safety management system, designed to help organisations put in place the policies, procedures and controls needed to achieve optimum working conditions in accordance with internationally recognised best practice. Certification to this standard is based on regular, comprehensive audits by teams of certified, independent auditors.

For more on OHSAS 18001, see the website:


The Extractives Hub briefing note Supplementary Guidance for Mining Inspectors includes a checklist of minimum elements required for an effective operational safety regime.

Incident investigation and remedial action

In the context of mining, "incident" might be defined as any unplanned work-related event resulting in actual or potential injury to persons, damage to health of persons or to the environment, human fatality, damage to property or loss of production or of property.

Case Study: Safety incident At Shangani Mine, Zimbabwe: December 1995

A voltage surge tripped the power to the friction rock winder in a 900m vertical shaft at a nickel mine. Two independent braking systems were designed to apply automatically but failed to engage due to incorrect adjustments during earlier maintenance. Two rock skips, one loaded, and all the winding ropes, a total of some 40 tonnes of material, plunged to the bottom of the shaft. The shaft was extensively damaged and all production was lost for six weeks. Although the double-deck man cage was in the mid-shaft position, it was unoccupied and there were no injuries to persons.

This incident therefore caused no casualties but resulted in millions of dollars of physical damage and lost output. Potential existed for multiple fatalities.

Maintenance procedures were later revised and access to critical components was secured to prevent access by unauthorised personnel. No further incidents occurred.

It should be the objective of all mine operators and inspectorates to eliminate safety related incidents. However, incidents may still occur and should be investigated. This requires that all incidents in the workplace are reported to management.

Objectives of incident investigation

The purpose of investigation is not to allocate blame to individuals or groups, but to discover the true causes of the incident and to then take effective action to prevent the recurrence of the same or similar incident. Mine regulations usually require operations to have an effective incident reporting and investigation system, and empower inspectors to study records of incidents, analyse trends and review incident reports and findings.

The most important part of incident response is the action taken to prevent recurrence, and it is an important duty of every mine operator and inspector to ensure that planned remedial actions are implemented effectively and remain in place.

Often the biggest failure in a safety management system occurs when an incident has been thoroughly investigated, the true causes have been clearly identified, effective remedies have been devised and then there is inadequate follow-up to ensure that they are properly implemented in all relevant parts of the organisation, perhaps leading to a repeat of the same incident. 

Although the objective of investigation is not to place blame, discipline is an important part of safety management and where people have been negligent, disobeyed rules or broken regulations, part of the remedial action may require individuals to be sanctioned either internally by mine management or by inspectors if they are empowered by regulations to do so. 

Processes and techniques for incident investigation

Inspectors need to be thoroughly trained in incident investigation techniques. Structured processes may be used, perhaps in the form of a checklist of standard questions. The process should involve, at a minimum, the following steps:

1. Site visit to the scene of the incident; notes, measurements, plans and sketches, photographs; reconstruction of incident where appropriate and safe

2. Inspection and testing of equipment involved

3. Interviews: persons directly involved: workers, supervisors, witnesses, safety representatives

4. Review of relevant regulations, procedures, standards, past instructions given by inspectors, audit findings, previous incident reports

5. Review of the historic safety performance of the facility, mine or section; analysis of trends

A useful technique for an inspector is to visit other working places in the mine similar to the scene of the incident. This gives some indication of normal conditions in the activity involved. Interviewing workers not directly involved also helps to understand whether activities and events at the incident site, whether considered correct or not, were normal or abnormal.  


Serious incidents

Regulations normally identify certain types of incident which are sufficiently serious that they should be reported immediately to an inspector, who is obliged to investigate. Incident management focuses on “potential” as well as “actual” harm because often an incident occurs in which there is no actual harm to persons or property but where the same circumstances could cause major harm if repeated. The most serious incidents are clearly those resulting in human fatalities.

The table on the following page lists some of the types of incident that might be considered serious in mining and require immediate response by the Department of Inspectorate. Regulations also normally require mine operators to leave serious incident sites untouched until an inspector gives clearance to resume work, except for actions to prevent further danger.

Examples of serious incidents which might require reporting and investigation by an inspector

Incidents resulting in fatalities

  • The death of any person as a result of work activities, including use of motor vehicles

  • Injury to persons that appear to be life-threatening

  • Incidents resulting in loss of consciousness of persons due to any cause, especially heat, gas inhalation or electric shock

  • Incidents resulting in serious injuries, which may be defined as resulting in permanent disability, loss of any limb or joint or faculty, or resulting in persons being unable to perform their normal duties for a lengthy period, e.g. 14 days

Serious incidents not resulting in fatalities

  • Shaft incidents: winders running out of control, fracture or severe damage to winding ropes, conveyances or attachments; derailments of conveyances in shafts, failure of any safety devices (see case study, Shangani Mine, above)

  • Any unintentional ignition or detonation of explosives

  • Significant flooding of any workings; any major fall of ground

  •  Any failure of main ventilation fans

  •  Any significant failure of tailings or waste rock impoundments

Emergency response procedures 

Thorough planning should be carried out and documented, for responding to emergencies, including serious or large-scale incidents involving the risk or actual occurrence of multiple casualties or significant damage to facilities or properties. Some countries’ regulations require inspectors to approve a mine’s emergency response procedures.

Emergency procedures must be recorded in writing and preferably signed by responsible officials. They may be accompanied by maps, plans and drawings as appropriate, showing escape routes and locations of first-aid equipment, fire-fighting equipment etc. Procedures should be posted on notice boards and should include contact numbers for emergency services and responsible officials.

The effectiveness of emergency procedures depends very much on whether they are regularly rehearsed, e.g. fire drills. Inspectors should include a review of this in mine audits.

Underground mines should have an effective system for recording everyone who is underground at any time. Regulations normally require a mine to have at least two exits.   

B. Managing the use of explosives

By far the bulk of rock extracted in mines globally is broken by drilling and blasting. Although alternative technologies are being developed to replace explosives, they are in their infancy. Mining is the largest user of civil explosives and their manufacture is a major industry in itself.

Because the necessary expertise lies in the Ministry of Mines, governments often make that ministry, specifically the Department of Inspectorate, responsible for regulating all civil use of explosives. This may sometimes be administered jointly with other authorities such as security agencies. It is important for inspectors to have total competency in the safe use of explosives.

The aspects of using explosives which need to be safely managed and which are usually covered by regulations are:

1. Manufacture

2. Transport

3. Storage

4. Use

5. Disposal

Mining explosives have two main components: the explosives themselves which do the work of breaking rock, commonly called fracture explosives, and initiation systems: the detonators and other accessories which allow explosives to be detonated under properly controlled conditions. Detonators and other items used in blast initiation are often collectively called accessories. In broad terms, over the past few decades, traditional use of fuse and igniter cord was largely replaced by electric detonators which are, in turn, yielding to sophisticated non-electric systems commonly called shock-tube.

For technical reasons, timing of individual charges is important in blasting practice, and initiation systems are designed to ensure that individual charges detonate in a pre-planned sequence with a small delay in between, measured in milliseconds.

Fracture explosives and detonators present different risks and therefore require different procedures for management. Certain fracture explosives such as ANFO can be safely manufactured on site at a mine. Some modern explosives and detonators are inherently very safe and, in some cases, these items are inert at all times until the last possible moment, becoming active only as they are charged into holes drilled in rock, ahead of a blast. Some of these products also produce much lower volumes of noxious gases than older, more traditional explosives such as nitro-glycerine-based products, such as dynamite, gelignite and dynagel.

Despite this, the use of explosives remains a key safety issue in mining and in other civil applications. In some countries, security is also a major factor. Furthermore, theft of explosives can be a major risk in countries with large artisanal mining sectors, particularly where such activities are conducted illegally.

Safety in blasting depends on ensuring that only experienced, competent operators are permitted to handle explosives and they should be legally licensed after formal competency testing. In many jurisdictions, it is the responsibility of the mines inspectorate to administer a system for licensing of operators, explosives themselves and storage facilities, i.e. explosives and accessories magazines. Regulations typically provide criteria for persons to qualify for blasting certificates and specifications for explosives magazines and factories. Auditing such structures at mines is a routine part of an inspector’s duties and he may have the power to suspend licenses for breaches of the relevant regulations.

Regulations sometimes govern the import of explosives. Both fracture explosives and accessories must in all cases be stored in licensed magazines, whose specifications are also included in regulations. Licenses are typically approved by inspectors following a physical audit.

C. Assuring the efficient use of mineral resources

Constitutionally, mineral resources are generally regarded as the property of the state, administered by the government on behalf of the people. Laws are enacted creating a responsible ministry, in these notes called the Ministry of Mines, which is entrusted with the responsible exploitation of these resources for the benefit of the nation and its entire population.

The Ministry must identify and manage the risks associated with exploration and exploitation of mineral resources. One of the chief of these is economic risk, which arises from actions by investors and mine operators which leads to wastage of potentially economic resources. In some cases, potentially economic resources may not be mined due to incorrect assessment of the technical and economic characteristics of a deposit. In other cases, companies might maximise profits by mining high-grade ore and leaving behind low-grade material which could have been profitably extracted along with the high-grade ore, but is uneconomic to mine by itself. 

Worked examples of resource utilisation scenarios

The picture shows a section through a gold deposit with a high-grade and a low-grade zone.

The table below shows what happens if a company decides, and is allowed, to mine only the high-grade zone, compared with mining the whole known deposit.

In this example, if a company mines the entire deposit (Scenario 1), it makes a profit of $57 million after extracting all the gold.

If the company mines only the high-grade zone, the cost per ounce of gold extracted is considerably lower because each tonne of ore mined and processed yields much more gold than Scenario 1. By mining only high-grade ore (Scenario 2) the company makes a much greater profit, $128 million.

However, Scenario 2 leaves 142,000 ounces of potential gold production unmined, and although profit is higher, revenue is much lower both for the company and for government, as there is a loss of taxes and royalties. Those supplying the sector, for example through the provision of goods, services and employment, may also see a lower revenue from the operation.   

Added to this picture is the fact that it may not be technically feasible to mine the low-grade ore separately as this is unlikely to be profitable. In the example, a loss of $13 million is recorded.

Implications for policy and mineral inspectorate

For this reason, governments pay close attention to resource utilisation. It is seldom possible to economically extract a mineral deposit entirely, with no wastage or losses at all, but governments try to ensure that optimum extraction is achieved. Governments accomplish this through provisions in regulations, licenses or contracts. A mine operator’s license to operate may require submission of a feasibility study or mining plan for approval, either before commencement of mining, or at regular intervals during exploitation, or both.

Resource utilisation is a complex, technical subject. The necessary expertise and resources to monitor and enforce compliance usually reside in the Department of Inspectorate, making this an important function of the Department of Inspectorate. The department may use the services of specialists within the department or external consultants to assist in this part of its work.

Approval and compliance monitoring for feasibility studies and mining plans may be carried out by an inter-departmental team in which the Department of Inspectorate would normally play a central role.

It is important to note that mineral resource statements published by mining companies must comply with very strict international guidelines. There are also strict criteria for a bankable feasibility study.

D. Recording production volumes and activities

Regulations, licenses and contracts may specify maximum or minimum levels of activity by a mine operator. For example the volume or tonnage of ore mined must be less than or greater than a specified maximum or volume or tonnage, respectively, per month or per annum.

Importantly, royalties might be due on sales of minerals. Royalties are normally calculated as a percentage of sales revenue. This can be a complex subject, as account might be taken of freight charges and toll smelting and refining charges, where applicable, to determine net revenue upon which royalties are levied. Some loss of product occurs at each stage of processing from mining to sale and recovery of product after each process affects the volume sold. Royalty computations become even more complicated when two or more minerals are produced. Determination of royalties can therefore have important technical as well as accounting components.

Typical role of the department of the inspectorate in recording production volumes and activities

As the custodians of technical expertise within a ministry, the Department of Inspectorate will play a vital role in ensuring that the government receives the correct royalties. This may lead to a requirement to station inspectors permanently on site at a mine, checking the recording of product shipped. The activity may involve checking and recording weighbridge readings, reviewing assays of bulk products such as concentrates, or other measurements.

Inspectors may be required to use survey techniques to check volumes of material extracted from quarries and open pits or to measure stockpiles and waste and tailings dams to verify volumes of material treated. They might confine their techniques to checking volumes and areas on plans.

Other activities which may need to be measured for purposes of protection of mining title might include verification of diamond drilling, which may be accomplished by examination of core logs or assay results, or physical measurement of core. In the case of underground mining, it may be necessary to verify development advances (mine tunnelling) on a monthly or annual basis, by checking survey plans and perhaps visiting some areas physically.