Guidance Note on Medico-Legal Investigations of Mine Deaths published – the basics to note

14th May 2019

Guidance Note on Medico-Legal Investigations of Mine Deaths published – the basics to note

On 10 May 2019, the Chief Inspector of Mines published a Guidance Note on Medico-Legal Investigations of Mine Deaths (Guideline). The Guideline aims to provide certainty as to roles and process in the event that the cause of a death on a mine is immediately unclear - i.e. may have been due to natural causes or unrelated to mining activities, for example. The Guideline should be used to assist in determining whether the mining related activities at a mine may have contributed to the cause of death in the event of a fatality.

Of particular relevance to employers are the following principles, which are reinforced in the Guideline:

A simplified schematic of the roles and responsibilities in the event of a death at a mine is included in the Guideline as Annexure 1.

The medical practitioner (which may also be the OMP) is required to examine the body of the deceased person and to indicate if the likely cause of death was natural/unnatural causes. If a death is certified as natural, taking into account the factors listed in the Guideline, no further investigation is required.

In cases of uncertain or unnatural causes, a medical practitioner must submit the body of the deceased and all relevant information as soon as possible for a medico-legal examination. This must include Annexure 4 to the Guideline, the "Referral letter - mine related deaths".

Notably "no medical practitioner may perform a post mortem examination on the body of a deceased person unless it is specifically done in terms of the Inquests Act". This includes "the full involvement and consent of the SAPS" unless in the case of a death as a result of natural causes with the consent of the next of kin or consent of the deceased before death. Attendance at the post mortem examination remains regulated by the provisions of section 3(5) of the Inquests Act.

The OMP must also arrange for the removal of cardiorespiratory organs in accordance with Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act and ensure that consent from the employee (prior to death) or relatives (after death) has been obtained.

Duties of the various role players from the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate are also reinforced in the Guideline. Inspectors are advised to take sworn statements from witnesses wherever possible during the section 60 MHSA investigation. Any suspected irregularities outside of the scope of the MHSA must be reported to the South Africa Police Service (SAPS). Inspectors are also advised to make arrangements and co-ordinate inspections in loco with the mine manager, union representatives and other experts to avoid delays and/or duplication. The Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate must also:

Notably, the medical inspectors can communicate with the OMP for required medical information, may request a copy of the post mortem examination report from the SAPS and communicate with the forensic pathologist for relevant information. The post mortem report must be used for purposes of completing the section 60 MHSA investigation report.

The Guideline confirms that if there is any uncertainty about whether an accident is mine related or not the matter must be referred to the Chief Inspector of Mines for a ruling.

Access to and confidentiality of the post mortem examination report is also addressed in the Guideline and provides that:

Written By Kate Collier, a Partner at Webber Wentzel