JOHANNESBURG, May 4 – South Africa’s mineral resources department on Friday urged Sibanye-Stillwater to pay greater attention to health and safety after four workers died following a seismic event at the company’s Masakhane mine in Driefontein.
“The gold sector has seen an increase in fatalities this year, with Sibanye-Stilwater as one of the main contributors,” the department said. “This suggests that greater attention be paid to issues of safety, particularly the protection of the lives of workers, as opposed to the insistence of chasing production.”
The four workers killed were among 13 employees trapped on Thursday. Six are in hospital while three are still unaccounted for.
The mineral resources department said its health and safety inspectors were on site as rescue operations continued for the workers still trapped underground.
It said seismic incidents accounted for about 30 percent of fatalities in 2017, and as a result minister Gwede Mantashe had directed a team which includes rock engineers and seismicity experts, to urgently investigate “in order to assist the industry to better anticipate and deal with seismic activities”.
Eight employees were still stuck underground at the Masakhane Mine on Thursday, after a seismic incident at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Driefontein operations in Westonaria, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said.
The union said it was deeply worried and concerned after 13 employees were trapped underground.
“We are informed that there was a seismic event around 1pm today at Masakhane Mine in Westonaria. Thirteen workers went missing and five who were working in the same area have been rescued so far. Proto teams have been sent underground to look for the eight missing workers who are still trapped underground. We hope they will be found still alive, healthy and safe,” NUM health and safety chairperson, Peter Bailey, said.
The union said it was “angry and concerned” at the rate at which health and safety incidents were happening at Sibanye Stillwater.
Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said it was alarmed by the “deteriorating and poor safety record” of the Sibanye Stillwater mining company.
According to Cosatu, one employee was since reported dead and seven workers still remained missing.
“We send our condolences to the family ,friends and colleagues of the dead miner and our prayers to the missing mineworkers and their families. This happens barely a couple of months since two workers died at another Sibanye operation and 1100 workers were trapped underground for more than twenty hours at another Sibanye Stillwater Mining operation in Beatrix, Free State,” Cosatu said in a statement.
“Sibanye Stillwater’s deteriorating safety record is alarming considering that this is the company that was one of the safest companies in the gold sector in 2015. The department of mineral resources and the department of labour needs to take seriously this deteriorating safety record by conducting a thorough investigation.
“It is scandalous that the mining sector has seen more than 25 deaths already this year but government is still reluctant to implement Section 54 mine stoppages under the Health and Safety Act. Government is sacrificing workers because it is afraid of the mining companies. While we appreciate that there was a tremor underground at Masakhane, Cosatu still demands more action from government to force companies to adhere to safety regulations.”
The company was not immediately available for comment.
Earlier, the company said that 13 employees were trapped underground on Thursday, after a seismic incident.
Head of investor relations James Wellsted said that the seismic even happened at around 1.30pm and caused the a fall of ground in an operating stopped at its Masakhane mine, Driefontein operations on the West Rand.
He said initially employees were unaccounted for.
“Mine rescue teams were immediately mobilised and three employees have been located and have been interacting with the rescue teams. All efforts are being made to locate the 10 employees who remain unaccounted for, and safely recover all the affected employees,” Wellsted said.
“The department of mineral resources and all the unions have been informed and representatives are on site assisting with the rescue efforts.”
Wellsted said an update would be provided when more information was available.