South African Parliament Passes Tough Mine Safety Law

Voting in Cape Town, South Africa's parliament today passed a new mine safety law that will raise penalties for mining companies and their executives, including holding CEOs criminally responsible for deaths in some of the world's deepest mines. The National Union of Mineworkers had campaigned for the law, but the mining companies called it "too punitive" and unconstitutional. If the law is finalized, potential fines against companies would rise from 200,000 rand to 1 million rand ($93,900), and executives could be imprisoned for five years and fined as much as $300,000.

South African mining is the world's top producer of platinum and responsible for producing 11.1 percent of the world's gold last year, The New York Times and Creamer Media's Mining Weekly magazine, which covers the South African mining industry, reported today. Last year, there were 221 deaths in South African mines -- up from 200 in 2006, according to Mining Weekly. The deaths are far fewer than was common in the country's mines in the early 1990s, but the deaths have prompted South Africa's government to temporarily shut down mining operations after fatal accidents, and mine unions have stopped work at mines whenever a death occurred, the magazine reported.

The new law will take effect if it is signed by South African President Kgalema Motlanthe. Besides higher penalties, the law would require mine accident investigations to begin within 10 days of an incident, with a report on the incident completed within 30 days.

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