Sibanye struggles to stem flow as miner dies at Driefontein

SIBANYE-Stillwater said an employee died at the firm’s Driefontein operation on the West Rand continuing the spate of fatalities at the facility this year and deepening the crisis that has drawn criticism from Parliament, government, unions and non-governmental groups.

The gold and platinum miner said the employee had – “… for reasons still to be determined” – entered a scraper path at the Khomanani mine at Driefontein where he was “… caught by the scraper”.

The way Sibanye-Stillwater describes the event, on face value, indicates that judgement of the employee may have played a role. It said on June 12 when describing events at Ikamva mine at Kloof, which neighbours Driefontein, that employees had “… entered an abandoned working area” without giving additional explanation. In that event, five employees died.

Sibanye-Stillwater has now lost 21 employees this year alone and has contributed to about half of all mining fatalities this year which are set to continue the increase in mine deaths of the last two years. The South African government has said that it will rely partly on the Mine Health and Safety Act for guidance on tackling the rising spate of mine deaths.

“This is another sad incident and all efforts are being focussed on addressing this perplexing increase in safety incidents,” said Sibanye-Stillwater today in an announcement. “As per regulatory convention, an investigation into the incident will be carried out by management, together with the DMR [Department of Mineral Resources] and other stakeholders,” it added.

The company is convening its second safety summit with unions on June 29 “… in order to collectively address these incidents”. Gwede Mantashe, a former member of the National Union of Mineworkers, and current mines minister, has called on unions to come up with its own solutions to the safety crisis.

Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater, described the track-record this year, especially at the West Rand gold mines, as “unacceptable”. In response the company has employed a professor at the University of Witwatersrand Kobus de Jager, who will be Sibanye-Stillwater’s corporate head of safety.

The company was also funding an independent study with the the Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry “… with the aim of developing practical recommendations for enhancing risk management effectiveness at our operations”.

It has said that employees were encouraged to withdraw from unsafe mining areas if they deem them to be so. It also responded to union allegations saying that it does not condone  any miner being compelled to work in unsafe areas. An anonymous tip-off service has been provided in order to identify possible instances where miners are forced to operate in unsafe areas.

Beyond the human tragedy that is unfolding at Sibanye-Stillwater, this latest event will ramp up the pressure on the company from an operating and financial perspective as deaths lead to operating interruptions.

Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold division performed poorly in the first quarter of this year reporting a 12% quarter-on-quarter decline in production to 291,500 ounces. Coupled with a weaker average rand/dollar exchange rate – 11.96 in the quarter compared to an average of 13.63 in the December quarter – it led to a hefty 62% slide in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation for the quarter to R374m for the company’s South African gold mining division.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I feel sorry for all of the employees at these operations. To lose this many colleagues is a tragedy and a disaster. Inevitably the Unions will call for the manager to be prosecuted. Please do not use the tragedies to get back at people for what happened in the past. Work together to resolve the safety issues and change the risky behaviour of our employees… It will be much more rewarding than revenge….

  2. Hi Gold Speculator – You have submitted a comment on this article but I can’t use it. You are personal in your attacks and whilst your insights are looked forward to and enjoyed by other readers, they sometimes push the boundaries, and move beyond the boundaries, of propriety. You’re a smart guy so you know where those excesses are in the comment you wrote so please edit and re-send to me and I’ll consider it for publication.

    Regards and respect

    David McKay

    • There is an old adage that says :

      A SAFE MINE IS A PRODUCTIVE MINE….

      I have long been a critic of the operational performance of SGL gold division. This division is rudderless and lacks the stewardship required. The approach adopted by SGL RSA management of “facsimile toughness” of kicking doors and banging on tables demanding stof or kilos is killing people. This apartheid-era antiquated approach is totally out of place and immoral. This bullying of employees , including unions, is creating a toxic and lethal environment at SGL.

      However, as fellow readers would expect, that i stop the blame game and provide possible solutions to this Safety quagmire that SGL finds itself.I propose the following to be done contemporaneously:
      1. Independent review of Safety procedures and standards of SGL. This review must be done at BOD level.
      2. From 1, this review must inform the Risk Management changes and other operational control henceforth
      3. A high-level ( SVP level , GM , DMR -RM , Union regional leadership etc) committee who will visit work areas on a monthly/weekly basis to conduct in-loco inspections and safety drives efficacy assessments. This committee will be given powers to invite other 3rd parties should they wish to share best practices etc. This will improve transparency and avoid the blame game.
      4. SGL internal focus group (senior managers) who will manage already identified deficient standards and installations in a form of a programme reporting to the CEO. This group should NOT report to production managers. They will update the CEO of progress in improving “safe production practices” across SGL.
      5. SGL must launch a reinvigorated Safety Drive focusing on work areas by employees. Each team & workplace must have its own ( albeit linked to the corporate overall) of Safety Mottos & commitments embossed on their work environment. These should be formal and part of working area specific safety induction. Such indiction of such safety protocols/mottos etc should be known by visitors or workmen in that area.
      6. Every supervisor must conduct 2-3 Planned Task Observations per week on his team of sub ordinates, that is ( miner on his crews , shift boss on his miners, mining engineer on his shift bosses etc). This to ensure that all levels are held accountable to ensuring that high risk tasks are supervised ( by warm body presence of a supervisor). This will eliminate instances of 5x employees entering abandoned areas looking for potential stof to make call/target!

      “Safety in Mind” must be employee driven at its core thus necessitating their involvement at its basic and conceptual level. Therefore, the “safety summits” etc are well and truly not were Safety incidents will be identified, therefore they are a waste of time. The Prof can help the CEO of SGL to interpret the safety trends. Hopefully he will listen and act timeously unlike with the share price slump!

      • We, the industry, need you, Goldspeculator, to show us the way, the truth and the light. How did we come so far without your wisdom?😂😂😂

  3. The mining deaths are absolutely tragic and everything should be done to avoid this however, it is humanly impossible to prevent death, as no man holds this power. It seems that some in government and elsewhere would like everyone to believe that Messrs. Froneman and Co do in fact secretly hold this power and should be penalised for not wielding it when required.

    To use the emotional turmoil, in the wake of these fatalities, to start a hunt and justify a curatorship is, without a doubt, the most callous and subversive initiative, that anyone could undertake. So yes, appoint a curator. That way the thieving level may be raised for the benefit of the few. Oh, and said curator could also support the mining charter…

  4. I have been following SGL since the Gold Fields unbundling as well as during the PGM acquisitions. We all know that all SGL assets are old historic operations and marginal. Ever since the SGL creation they boasted about cost cutting initiatives. Question is: Did they not take it too far. How many safety positions and safety training contracts have been abolished or cancelled under the auspices of cost cutting to make operations economically viable. Is what we see now not the result of years of cost cutting?
    If it is, then the appointment of one safety exec will not help. What SGL need is an organizational restructuring based on safety best practices of other big mining houses.

  5. I agree with Jack’s sentiments. Sibanye’s value proposition has always been to cut middle and frontline technical specialists like rock engineers, geologists, etc and have a flat management structure. The few senior managers at Sibanye can not practically ensure that there is comprehensive risk assessment and that safety systems are effective and implemented. There is no way that 5 people can go to unventilated historical areas if there are planning and risk assessment meetings to sign off safe workplaces. Sibanye needs to fix it’s management structure soon. Getting professors onboard sounds like an excuse to avoid tough financial decisions. There Rustenburg platinum mines will be the next killing fields if they do not review their business model. South African mineworkers are still unskilled and you need to ensure effective management and supervision. This is not Australia or Canada where skilled mineworkers are multi-skilled and are qualified to conduct their own risk assessment in working areas.

  6. The cost of mining is escalating due to pressure from NUM for exorbitant wage increases in exchange for low quality resources, and the skimming by the DMR through its various royalties, non-growth BEE deals and demands for “freebees” for the surrounding communities (for political support).

    Cost cutting is a natural result of these burdens.

    Who then, should ultimately shoulder the blame for a reduction in safety?

  7. I feel sorry for this man family, but Deep level mining is inherently dangerous and those miners know what they signed for, let’s wait the results of the investigation to see if there was any negligence from the supervisors, the employees or management. How many people dies of illegal mining? How many people die in the trucking industry? Lets take a step back and wait for the cold hard facts.

    The oulook for SA gold mining is bleak, my best case scenario is that they break-even in 2018, my worst case is mine closures. The Unions and the DMR are the proverbial nails in the coffin of this industry, there are no new gold mines getting built! Management doesn’t want this bad PR and operation stoppages or eventual labor strikes. It is extremely unlikely that they would “sweep it under the rug”.

    The only great news about this is I sold out my Sibanye shares last friday.

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