According to him, accident statistics show that human behaviour is the primary cause of accidents. “For that reason, the Mine Health and Safety Act has identified the creation of a culture of health and safety as one of its objectives,” he continues. This objective is supported by a number of statutory provisions which require employee participation, instruction and training of employees, risk management, disclosure of information to employees and the employee’s right to leave a work place which poses a serious danger to health and safety. Le Roux points out that the Act requires the employer to consider, as far as reasonably practicable, an employee’s training and capabilities in respect of health and safety before assigning a task to that employee. In addition, the employer is required to provide, as far as reasonably practicable, employees with any information, instruction, training or supervision that is necessary to enable them to perform their work safely and without risk to health. Further, the employer is also required to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that every employee becomes familiar with work-related hazards and risks and the measures that must be taken to eliminate, control and reduce those hazards and risks. These measures, Le Roux says, enhances health and safety.
Despite all these measures, mine fatalities and injuries have reduced only marginally during the last few years. Fatalities and injuries are, however, significantly down from figures recorded in the 1980s and even the early 1990s. Le Roux remarks that it is, however, important in this regard to bear in mind that as safety improves with the accompanying reduction of fatalities and injuries, the success rate will inevitably reduce as well. He believes that improved technology and the implementation of safety measures in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act have improved safety in general. Le Roux has appeared for mining houses in most of the prominent inquests, inquiries and investigations during the last few years. He reiterates that it appears from accident investigations and inquiries that human behaviour still remains one of the most important causes of accidents. In order to change the behaviour of employees, certain of the mining houses have implemented behavioural change programmes. Although it is difficult to measure the success thereof, it is believed that these programmes have contributed to the improvement of safety. “A factor which is sometimes prevalent in accident investigations and inquiries is the fact that certain of the persons involved in the accident did perhaps not fully comprehend the hazards and risks associated with the work,” says Le Roux. According to him, this situation is sometimes caused as a result of a lack of understanding on the part of the person in question. Very often such persons are employed by independent contractors. It must, however, be borne in mind that the employer is ultimately responsible to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that all employees, including contractual employees, are properly trained.
Le Roux points out that a very large number of accidents are attributed to falls-of-ground. “Statistics show that 96 of the 246 fatalities which occurred during 2004 were related to falls-of-ground, which represents 39% of the total number of fatalities,” claims Le Roux. “In an attempt to prevent such accidents, more stringent regulations were introduced concerning the making-safe procedure which must precede the entry of employees into the work place,” he adds. Mines are required to retain records of declarations in terms of which work places are declared safe for a period of three months. A mine is also required to ensure that a quality-assurance system is in place which ensures that support units used provide the required perform-ance characteristics for the loading conditions expected in the work place. Le Roux believes that the proper implementation of these regulations will improve safety underground and reduce rockfalls.