Earth tremors registering 2.2 on the Richter scale have caused a fall of ground in an operating stope, trapping 13 employees on Thursday. Four of the trapped workers died, six were located, rescued and rushed to the hospital, while the other three workers are still unaccounted for.
The Sibanye-Stillwater mining company has been one of the main companies responsible for increased fatalities in the gold sector this year, which points to the fact that they need to pay more attention to safety, Mineral Resources Ministe, Gwede Mantashe, said on Friday. The recent rise in injuries and fatalities has angered the unions who claim the company is guilty of negligence.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) said the first tremor on Thursday measured at 2.5, occurring at about 12.23pm, followed by another measuring 2.2 at 13.17pm. "A third (seismic event occurred) five minutes later, which reportedly measured 1.6. One of the events caused a fall of ground which trapped a total of 13 workers at level 40, which is approximately 2.6km underground… Mining is very unsafe and mineworkers risk life and limb daily to put bread on the table for their families,” Amcu said.
The mining union also said that accidents in the mines have taken the lives of 26 mineworkers since January 2018, “At this same Masakhane Shaft, a mineworker perished after a mine accident in February. (This) after two mineworkers were killed at Sibanye Stillwater’s Kloof operations just a week before. We are shocked at the current state of affairs". AMCU firmly believes that the issue of health and safety in mining has become a "human rights issue".
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said it was "angry and concerned at the rate at which mining incidents are happening at Sibanye Stillwater" on Friday, calling for serious intervention into the safety mechanisms employed in the company.
Earlier this morning, mine spokesperson, James Wellsted, told News24: "We've got the rescue teams underground and there's a lot of loose rock, so you can imagine the difficulties." NUMs health and safety deputy secretary, Sikelala Dlamini, expressed his hopelessness in finding the remaining workers saying: "Looking at the condition of the situation where they are situated, there is still a heavy rockfall which makes it difficult for the rescue teams to find them." He also expressed the emergent need for the company to employ techniques to detect any seismic activity before it occurs so that workers can be evacuated safely.
Sibanye-Stillwater's website released a statement saying that the safety, health and well-being of its employees was paramount. It also said an action plan was being designed for gold operations, for six areas: falls of ground, rail-bound equipment, slip and fall, material handling, winches and rigging, and eye injuries.
Earlier this year, 955 miners were trapped due to an electric cable outage at the Sibanye Goldmine in Welkom, and the week after, two mine workers were found dead after a fall of ground caused by a seismic event at the Kloof Ikvama shaft. The following week, a mineworker died at the Sibanye-Stillwater's Masakhane shaft when a box of gold ore crushed him to death.
In response to the recent safety concerns raised, Wellsted said there had only been six deaths reported last quarter; four in the gold sector and two in Platinum group metals. They released a statement saying: "This follows a period last year where we went for over a quarter into January without any incidents at all. So, it is concerning for us. We are trying again to elevate safety across the organisation so that we get back to the leading performance we had before."
Sibanye-Stillwater mine plans to rescue the miners and look into implementing better safety precautions.