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Cablegate: Safety in South African Mines - a Moral Imperative

DE RUEHSA #1624/01 2070811
R 250811Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Safety in South African Mines - a Moral Imperative

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Persistent fatalities in South African mines
(increasing to 221 in 2007 from 199 in the prior year) have
galvanized industry, government, and labor into taking a harder look
at the way safety is communicated and implemented on mines. Both
Anglo American and Gold Fields, the third and fourth largest gold
producers in the world, have identified safety as top priority and
sine qua non for engaging in mining. A conference on Safety in Deep
Mining was organized by Mining Review Africa to highlight safety
issues and open discussion on causes and possible solutions to the
problem. Minerals and Energy Resources Specialist moderated a panel
discussion on safety governance and chaired a session on safety
education and management. Presentations and discussions covered
most aspects of mine safety, including technology, and industry and
government roles in safety research, legislation and governance.
The major consideration revolved around human factors in safety,
namely culture and attitude as the determinants of behavior, and how
senior executive commitment was essential in modifying behavior.
End Summary.

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Safety - Moral License to Mine

2. (SBU) Recent dismissals of a number of senior mining executives
for non-performance on safety issues, closure of mines by the
Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) following fatal accidents,
and labor action protesting unsafe and unhealthy working conditions
have cost South African mines hundreds of millions of dollars in
lost production and export earnings over the past year. These
issues have focused industry's attention on the imperative for a
more wide-ranging, innovative and pro-active approach to mine safety
and health matters. Health - represented as HIV/AIDS, TB and
Silicosis - and recurring power outages have a significant negative
impact on mine safety. Technical and human safety issues were
addressed by the Mining Review Africa Conference on Safety in Deep
Mining, held July 16-17 in Johannesburg, the hub of South Africa's
mining industry. The conference attracted 84 attendees from four
countries and presentations were made by major South African gold
and platinum mining companies as well as by Barrick Gold of Canada,
the biggest gold producer in the world.

Mining Safety Challenge

3. (SBU) Safety has been a long-standing focus of South Africa's
mining industry because most of the operations are underground and
all mines are being compelled to go deeper. A number of gold mines
are reaching depths of 4,000 meters and plan to go to 5,000 meters
should the economics prove viable. Platinum mines are planning to
go to 2,500 meters in the future. Increased depth requires better
mine planning and rock engineering, increased ventilation and
cooling, higher levels of technology and skills, and increased power
for rock haulage, pumping water, and to provide an acceptable
working environment. Increased depth also induces seismic events
around the mine, which are generally of low intensity but sufficient
Qaround the mine, which are generally of low intensity but sufficient
to trigger rock falls in working places. Mine statistics show that
70% of fatalities are caused by falls of rock from the roof
(hanging), but most are not related to seismic activity, which
generally occurs within a few hours of blasting and in-between shift

Modernizing Mining Safety

4. (SBU) A conference keynote address was presented by the Chief
Inspector of Mines Thabo Gazi who gave a historical review of South
Africa's mining industry and the role it has played in the
industrial and socio-economic development and urbanization of the
country, despite its roots in white-only exclusivity. He emphasized
mining's ability to mobilize capital, provide employment and
training, and earn foreign currency as major benefits. Gazi drew
attention to the fact that fatalities had decreased from 1,000 in
1987 to 212 in 2007, but stated that any deaths were unacceptable.
He said that mine deaths hampered government's initiatives on
poverty alleviation and promoted the flight of skills and capital

PRETORIA 00001624 002 OF 003

from the industry. They also had an economic and social impact and
created a negative image of South African mining. Gazi identified
the challenges facing the mining industry as being:
-- attracting and training skills;
-- acquiring new technologies and models in rock engineering,
backfill, explosives, ventilation and cooling;
-- addressing pollution and emissions;
-- combating HIV/AIDS and associated diseases; and
-- assuring appropriate mine design.
Gazi stressed that safety was the "moral license to mine" and that
best practices must be employed in all situations.

Safety Governance Challenges

5. (SBU) The panel on safety governance engaged panelists and
attendees in debate on the major issues, causes, failings, and
possible solutions to the present safety situation on South African
mines. All agreed that working conditions in South African mines
are unique in that mines employ large numbers of unskilled labor who
work in fairly arduous conditions of heat, humidity and limited
space, using heavy equipment. The panel also recognized that safety
was the collective responsibility of all stakeholders and required a
bi-partisan and multi-disciplinary approach involving labor,
management, government and individual awareness and empowerment. It
also required action by way of research, sound and effective
government policy, problem-centered regulation and oversight, and
the commitment and leadership of executive mine management.
Australia was cited as producing industry-coordinated and
cooperative research in safety despite a small government budget.
South Africa had a relatively bigger research budget but failed in
these areas because industry research organizations such as COMRO
(Chamber of Mines Research Organization) had been disbanded in favor
of company-specific research.

6. (SBU) Speakers dealt with technology and technical aspects of
safety, including essential visibility of miners and machinery using
strobe lights and sensors, communication equipment and safe-places,
and respiratory and rescue equipment. A major issue for South
African mines is the ability to arrest the free-fall of run-away
ore-skips and man-conveyances (cages). These have caused major
accidents in which many lives have been lost and extensive damage to
mine shafts and installations. Prevention though regular inspection
and maintenance of transportation systems is the only real solution
because physical methods are limited, depending on the weight and
speed of a skip or cage. The issue of declining skills in the
industry was identified as a key contributor to accidents,
specifically in regard to the monitoring, maintenance and use of
equipment and machinery. Much of this was blamed on government's
labor and black economic empowerment policies that have caused the
employment of inexperienced people in skilled jobs, and the
emigration of skills to Australia and Canada.

New Leadership Commitment

7. (SBU) Most presentations dealt with human factors as the major
Q7. (SBU) Most presentations dealt with human factors as the major
cause of and impediment to the reduction or elimination of mine
accidents. A provocative keynote address by Barrick's Vice
President for Health and Safety Don Ritz highlighted the essential
leadership role of senior mine executives in reducing accidents. He
emphasized that safety programs and systems were essential tools in
reducing accidents, but that a company had to go beyond these to cut
accidents to zero. This could only be done if executives were
committed and visibly involved in safety. "I must be the change I
wish to see in others", he quoted from Gandhi. Ritz said that
Barrick's CEO had accompanied him on a health and safety inspection
and promotion tour to all the companies 27 mines and that many of
these mines had not had a fatal accident in years. Others had
fairly high accident rates and there was a direct correlation
between executive commitment and accident frequency. He also showed
that there was a huge return on investment in safety, of the order
of 8/1.

PRETORIA 00001624 003 OF 003

8. (SBU) Other speakers presented information and statistics
showing that most accidents:
-- occur in "safe" areas;
-- are due to non-compliance by everyone from executives
to miners and operators; and
-- are due overwhelmingly to human factors and
Human factors include:
-- wellness;
-- lack of experience and skills;
-- attitude to safety;
-- culture;
-- production bonus systems;
-- working environment; and
-- non-empowerment of miners to make safety decisions.
The incidence of HIV/AIDS among South African miners ranges from
25-40%, an unreliable figure because only voluntary testing is
legally allowed. Miners infected by the HIV virus are extremely
susceptible to TB and silicosis and tend to hide their illnesses
until their condition becomes obvious. This has a major impact on
their safety compliance. Presenters also qualified behavior toward
safety as a combination of attitude and culture. Culture and
attitude are very difficult to change, but behavior can be modified
by constant training and the leadership of senior management.


9. (SBU) Safety awareness and training have always been a priority
in South Africa's mines, particularly the gold mines. During the
1980's and 1990's most mines were battling to maintain profit
margins and it is certainly possible that some safety "corners" were
cut to increase production. The arrival of the gold boom around
2005 increased pressure to manage ballooning costs and maintain
margins. The advent of Anglo American's new CEO Cynthia Carroll
with her focus on safety, the DME's mine closure policy, and labor
actions have all focused executive attention on the imperative for
new thinking and technology to be applied to safety and accident
prevention. Mining fatalities in South Africa have been reduced by
almost a factor of five from about 1000 in 1987, but that isn't good


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