Mining accidents not 'acts of God' - expert

MANILA, Philippines - When mining accidents happen, who's to blame? The miners, an expert said.

Speaking at the Philippine Mining Luncheon on Friday, April 12, Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Asia-Pacific principal consultant Keith Halford said that mining incidents are caused by human errors and not by "acts of God," or natural catastrophe that no one can prevent, such as an earthquake or a tidal wave. 

"The industry should understand that mining incidents or accidents are not 'acts of God,' but a product of human error, poor planning and insufficient understanding of HSE risks," he said. 

He spoke at a time when the the local mining industry is reeling from a series of accidents, putting the industry in a hot seat.    

Mining accidents

In August 2012, the tailings pond of gold and copper producer Philex Mining Corp. in Benguet province leaked into the neighboring Balog Creek, which flows into the larger Agno river, one of the primary sources of livelihood of 42 surrounding communities.

Philex attributed the mine spill to "unfavorable weather conditions" brought by "unprecedented" rainfall in the area at the time. 

The company contested the P1-billion fine imposed by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), saying the incident was caused by "force majeure."

In the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, force majeure is defined as "acts or circumstances beyond the reasonable control of contractor" -- a reason the MGB did not accept. 

Philex paid the fine in full in February.

Other mining incidents that put the mining industry in the hot seat the past year include the silt spill in the Toronto mine of Citinickel Mines and Development Corp. in Narra, Palawan in November 2012.

In February, the landslide in the coal mine of Semirara Mining Corp in Antique, the country's largest coal mine, killed 5 people. 

Semirara, the mining firm led by the country's 5th richest man David Consunji, cited "incessant rains" as the cause of the landslide.

Community's trust

Halford stressed that mining incidents are the sole responsibility of the mining company as these would also affect the image of the firm.

"One of the main issues affecting mining companies today is earning the trust of the (host) community and the local government. Not taking responsibility for such incidents does not help in this," he said.

The Philippine Mining Luncheon is a bi-monthly meeting of industry leaders and other stakeholders to discuss the issues the industry is facing. -