Mining companies are urged to keep employees with underlying conditions that put them at high risk of getting infected with the coronavirus away from work as the industry returns to production, the Mine Health and Safety Council said on Tuesday.
The council was presenting a report before a Parliamentary portfolio committee on mineral resources and energy, where it also stated that it was encouraged by the early detection of positive case of Covid-19 infection at an Impala Platinum mine.
"We encourage mines not to bring vulnerable employees to work," said David Msiza, the Chief Inspector of Mines, adding that they had observed a level of compliance with safety protocols by mines.
On Saturday, Implats revealed that it had temporarily shut down its Marula mine in Limpopo Province, after 19 mineworkers tested positive for Covid-19.
The mine is the first large producer to have reported a cluster of infections since companies returned to reduced production levels last month, following the easing of lockdown regulations by the government.
"The focus has to be on adherence to safety protocols, screening and testing of employees, as well as contact tracing," he said.
The virus has so far killed over 200 people around the country, with a growing number of infections.
On Tuesday, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy published guidelines for a mandatory Code of Practice for the mitigation and management of Covid-19 in the mining industry. Failure to comply with the guidelines - which, among other things, requires companies to conduct screening and testing of employees for the virus - constitutes a criminal offence.
"Employees with pre-existing conditions that will make them more susceptible to severe Covid-19 must be identified and only be permitted to to work after being declared fit by an occupational medical practitioners," according to the guidelines.
Under the regulations, employees are classified from very high risk to low risk, based on their area of occupation.
On 1 May, a Labour Court ruling ordered the department to issue Covid-19 health and safety guidelines in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act, after the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) challenged the existing regulations as non-binding, arguing that they put mineworkers at risk of contracting the virus.