IMPALA Platinum (Implats) is searching for five employees caught underground following a ‘mud rush’ at its Rustenburg Mines’ 6 shaft on Sunday.
Two other employees managed to exit safely following the incident which has resulted in a stoppage of production at 6 shaft.
Work at Implats’ 16 shaft has also been stopped following an unrelated incident on November 27 in which an employee was fatally injured during underground drilling operations, the company said.
“It is with deep regret that we record this incident which comes at a time when we have made significant improvements in the group’s safety performance with several historic safety records achieved in the past year,” said Nico Muller, CEO of Implats.
Implats said the South African government’s Department of Mineral Resources and Energy and unions had been informed of the incidents. “Contact is being made with the families of the missing employees in order to provide updates on the search and rescue mission, as well as counselling and support,” said Implats.
The details of the incident at 6 shaft where the rush of mud occurred is that seven employees were working at the bottom of the shaft which suddenly became inundated. The two employees who escaped sustained minor injuries, Implats said.
As of 6pm Sunday, five employees were unaccounted for, but two search and rescue teams were working underground in an effort to locate the missing employees, it said.
The fatality at 16 shaft and the event at 6 shaft come only days following a safety summit – called MineSafe – involving the government, unions, and the Minerals Council South Africa amid a deterioration in South African mining’s safety performance.
The parties recommitted themselves to zero tolerance for accidents which has long been a blight on the sector. “Mine and mining company leadership needs to become yet more visible and committed to safety at the workplace,” said Nolitha Fakude, chairperson of the Minerals Council.
The South African mining sector was heading for a second successive increase in annual fatalities this year. As of end-October, the number of fatalities at the country’s mines stood at 55 compared to 43 at the same time last year. “This is the second year of regression in the safety performance since the 2019 record low of 51 fatalities,” the Minerals Council said in a statement at that time.
The gold sector has recorded the highest number of fatalities with 23 followed by the platinum sector with 14 fatalities compared to the previous year, said the council. The leading cause of fatalities remains falls of ground (FoG).
There were 60 fatalities in the full year of 2020, over 20 of which were caused by FoG. General types of accidents were the second-largest cause of fatalities, with transport-related incidents third, the council said.