South Africa Defends Safety Stoppages After Mines’ Criticism

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s government hit back at mining companies that criticized the frequency of safety stoppages, saying that the health of workers takes priority over profit.

Even as the number of mining fatalities has risen this year, companies such as AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. and Anglo American Platinum Ltd. have said the Department of Mineral Resources invokes section 54 of the Mine Health and Safety Act too frequently, resulting in lost output. This section compels producers to stop operations so that investigations can take place.

Rather than shutting down an entire mine, they should simply close and inspect the area where an accident has occurred, AngloGold Chief Executive Officer Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan said Aug. 15. Amplats CEO Chris Griffith made similar comments last month.

“In recent months, certain mining companies have leveled very serious allegations against the minister and his officials, intimating that the officials may be using the instruments available to it to further its own purposes,” the DMR said in a statement Tuesday.

While the department is aware of the “global economic realities” facing commodity producers, safety is “non-negotiable,” it said.

Appeals Allowed

Mining companies can appeal if they think section 54 notices have been used incorrectly, the DMR said.

“To date, the minister of mineral resources has not received any formal appeals,” the DMR said. “It is appalling behavior by some responsible corporate citizenry of South Africa’s mining industry to be seemingly filing such appeals in the courts of public opinion.”

As of Aug. 18, there were 57 fatalities in South African mines this year, compared with 46 in the same period last year, Gold Fields Ltd. CEO Nick Holland said. In 2015, 77 miners died at work, a record low and a fraction of the annual average of about 800 deaths annually in the two decades to 1994, the DMR said in January.

AngloGold, the world’s third-biggest miner of the metal, had three fatalities and 77 safety stoppages in the first half of the year, losing 44,000 ounces of production. Amplats lost about 30,000 ounces of platinum group metals.

Not all mining companies have a problem with the DMR’s approach. “We can’t complain,” Peter Steenkamp, CEO of Harmony Gold Mining Co., said Tuesday in an interview. “At any point in time we don’t feel we had any unjustified section 54.”