Sibanye-Stillwater safety torment continues as four miners die

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Article corrected in the eighth par to show Neal Froneman saying on the assumption two mines were equally safe, it was only logical that the mine with a greater number of employees was likely to suffer more fatalities.

SIBANYE-Stillwater’s said it had located a fourth body after announcing on June 11 that five employees were missing – three of whom had been recovered but found to have died – after they entered an abandoned working place at Kloof’s Ikamva shaft on the West Rand.

“Specialised proto teams have been working through the night to locate and retrieve the employee but it is currently uncertain how long the retrieval process will take,” said Sibanye-Stillwater in an announcement this morning. “The search for the fifth employee continues and further updates will be issued when more information becomes available.”

This latest incident continues the group’s health and safety nightmare and is despite calls by Sibanye-Stillwater CEO, Neal Froneman, for stakeholders to redouble efforts to improve on a dismal recent safety track-record.

“The incident started yesterday after five employees entered an abandoned working area and sadly four out of the five employees passed away. A thorough investigation will be undertaken into the incident,” the company said.

Sibanye-Stillwater said last night that the Department of Mineral Resources and all unions had been informed. The fatalities means 10 miners have been killed at the company’s facilities since May 4 when seismicity triggered a rockfall in which seven employees died. Another miner died in a separate incident at Driefontein.

The National Union of Mineworkers said it was not known how the incident that took lives occurred. “It seems that disasters have become the order of the day at Sibanye Stillwater and as NUM we are highly disturbed and angered by this as this company is leading the pack in terms fatalities and the number of deaths per mine,” said Peter Bailey, NUM Health, and Safety chairperson.

Froneman told investors on June 7 that most accidents and fatalities underground were “… due to human behaviour”. He added that: “Unions have to play a role rather than sit on the sidelines and just criticise”. Unions and the company had recently convened a safety summit and had scheduled a follow-up meeting to “develop workstreams” on June 15. “This is a very significant breakthrough,” said Froneman.

He added that seismicity, which was behind the recent underground fatalities, was a normal part of deep-level underground gold mining. He also said that assuming two mines were equally safe it was only logical that the mine with a greater number of employees was likely to suffer more fatalities. Sibanye-Stillwater employs three to four times more people than other South African gold mining firms.

Accidents that result in fatalities also have an economic as well as a human impact. Froneman said the next quarter or two would be difficult for Driefontein following its spate of accidents. Mining operations are normally stopped in order to allow for an investigation into an accident.

Mining operations at Kloof’s Ikamva shaft have been suspended for a day of mourning, said Sibanye-Stillwater.

Safety incidents interrupting gold mining production was one of the factors that had led to a 42% decline in Sibanye-Stillwater’s share price since the beginning of the year along with other important factors such as its relatively high debt levels and uncertainty regarding a proposed merger with Lonmin.

The share had staged a long-awaited recovery since the last week of May increasing about 23% notwithstanding a 2% decline today – a fall that was in line with other gold mining firms including Harmony Gold, Gold Fields and AngloGold Ashanti.

8 COMMENTS

    • I think we all know why they were there… The tragedy is that management will be blamed, regardless of whether these guys were in áreas they should not have been…

  1. I think everyone concerned realice that we are now entering extremely dangerous territory… I think calling Management irresponsible is absolute nonsense. Desperate, definitely. The mention of so called ¨workstreams¨ and having meetings to set up more meetings will not be helpful either. Also, the CEO saying it is just logical that Sibanye should have more fatalities that the other mines, simply because they are bigger may be true, but it is not helpful… There are very large Mining companies all over the world, who mine without incurring any fatalities…
    Safety is a mindset. The first thing you have to agree on is ¨If it cannot be done safely, it should not be done at all¨ Well Neal, I think we agree, it cannot be done safely… Now it is your call.

    • If it cannot be done safely…

      I agree. Close the mine.

      While we are on the subject, close the entire taxi industry too. Do not forget the aviation industry, since there are several deaths per year here too. I think for good measure it would be wise to just remove all vehicles from the road. That way we can prevent all road deaths. Now let me think…Oh, what about the manufacturing industry, which has several mortalities per year. Yes, please also include Eskom since high voltage electricity is extremely dangerous and people die from it all the time while collecting their cables.

      Yes, I think management should ultimately be held responsible. After all, management, is in full control of everyones actions in the workplace and do, in fact, replace workers brain cells with their own so that the workers do not have to think for themselves.

      • I agree with you Anonymous. Management are always blamed as negligent and irresponsible. Of course these guys left their real Jobs that they are paid to do by said management, to go into old áreas to steal cable and strip the copper… If anyone says this out loud, they are branded as racist. That is exactly what I am saying, close the mines. The managers (and the companies) will find other countries to mine gold and they will be much more successful (also they will not have to work at these depths and be branded murderers by the unions and the DMR)… Government can then sit with an increased unemployed mass of ….people

  2. The company has to account to the extent that this incident happened on their premise, just like if someone dies in your house, or on your yard you will have to answer to the authorities.

    There is a lot of question to be answered, to investigate, to establish the facts.

    The first ethical question to ask, can there truly be no risk and zero death in deep mining employing thousands of people? The answer is no, lots of industry are not risk free(look at the trucking industry figures, it’s one of the most dangerous jobs). Can the industry makes technological progress to robotize it’s operations in the future? That is probably the way to go, who knows when.

    We always say safety is everybody’s responsibilities, when you drive your car; everybody is responsible: from the carmaker, to the signal lights design, to the other users(heavy vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists).

    With mining it is the same: Does the government performs audit and investigation?
    Does the company has safe procedures in place, are they taking measures to mitigate risks?
    Was there criminal negligence? Who was the foreman in charge of that shift?

    Don’t rush to judget based on very limited information.

  3. If you have done any Mine Management for a good length of time you will know that there is not a single accident that Management could not have done anything to prevent. In the same breath, in any situation, nothing prevents an individual from refraining to clearly endanger your life. In the end,
    The culture you get is the one that you foster.

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