South Africa's mines ministry defends safety drive

59 miners killed so far this year

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) — South Africa's government defended a renewed drive to reduce deaths and injuries in the mining industry, saying health and safety issues were "non negotiable."

Mining executives have recently expressed concern about government-ordered safety stops - dubbed "Section 54s" after the regulatory code they fall under - saying production and profits were being hurt as too many were being imposed.

Sibanye Gold's chief executive Neal Froneman in July said the department of mineral resources was "destroying hundreds of millions, if not billions of rand in value,” because of unnecessary safety stops.

Sibanye has said it lost 135 million rand (US$10 million) in revenue in the 12 months to June at its Kroondal platinum mine due to government safety stops.

The department of mineral resources hit back, saying "society can ill-afford to compromise human lives in the interest of commercial gains… The minister reaffirms the importance of safety audits."

The department noted that companies had the right to appeal a Section 54 notice but "to date, the Minister of Mineral Resources has not received any formal appeals."

According to the National Union of Mineworkers, 59 miners have been killed in South Africa's mines in the year to date, compared to 48 in the same period in 2015.

Chamber of Mines data shows that the death toll in South Africa's mines, which are the deepest in the world, fell for seven straight years to a record low of 77 in 2015. In 1993, 615 South African miners died on the job.

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