The Labour Court of South Africa ruled last week that a safety stoppage at a mine run by AngloGold should be overturned.
A stoppage on all underground 'tramming', or self-propelled haulage, and on the use of explosives had been put in place by safety inspectors because of infractions in one section of the mine. This was disproportionate, the Labour Court said, and the stoppage should only have been applied in that "minute part of the overall mining operation".
Only 91 employees work in that area, compared to 4218 across the mine, representing around 2% of staff, the Court said.
In their answers to the Court, the inspectors "clearly fail to appreciate the conceptual framework within which they are required to discharge their duties", the Court said.
"For example, it was submitted that proportionality was irrelevant … The respondents are clearly under the impression that they are empowered to close entire mines on account of safety infractions in a single section ... without specific reference to objective facts and circumstances that render the whole mining operation unsafe," it said.
"We believe that the Labour Court has, in this case, clarified the limits on the powers of the inspectorate," the Chamber of Mines said in a statement.
"The judgment provides greater clarity which will be useful to industry and the inspectorate. In particular, the judge pointed out that the Mine Health and Safety Act requires an inspector to objectively establish a state of affairs which would lead a reasonable person to believe that it may endanger the health or safety of any person at the mine, and contemplates an instruction that is proportionate to the infraction and the risk that it poses to health and safety," the Chamber said.