IMPALA Platinum (Implats) is to suspend production at its Rustenburg Mines for two days while it runs competency checks on winder equipment at other shafts in the complex.
“We have suspended production for today which we will extend into tomorrow (Wednesday),” said Johan Theron, spokesperson for the platinum group metals miner. “We will follow a process.”
At about 1.2 million ounces annually, Rustenburg accounts for about a third of Implats’ total concentrate (6E) production including third party and joint venture production. Theron said the downtime would also enable the company to hold a formal memorial for killed miners and “pull together as a team, and ask questions.”
The group announced earlier today 11 miners had died and a further 75 had been injured and hospitalised – 14 of whom are deemed critical – following an accident at its 11 Shaft at Rustenburg Mines. According to initial findings, the conveyence that was returning employees to surface following the end of their shift fell about 200m before the winder counterweight snagged in workings.
Implats provided further details on Tuesday evening saying in an update that after ascending to 17 level the conveyance “reversed direction”. While emergency protocols were automatically activated they nevertheless failed to stop the conveyance from rapidly falling.
“The lift came to a sudden stop at 20 level, some 180m below 17 level close to the bottom of 11 Shaft, when the counterweight, which balances the conveyance system reached the top of the winding infrastructure on surface, and as designed, was caught in jack catches.
“This resulted in a sudden, almost instantaneous deceleration, the force of which severely impacted the 86 employees who were standing upright in the three levels of the lift at the time,” said Implats.
As stated by Implats earlier today the conveyance was not in free-fall as it was still attached to the winder rope as it “slipped”. As a result, the precise break force is not currently known, the group said. While it had “a strong understanding of what happened” Implats would investigate how the accident had happened.
“Should any human error or negligence be found to have contributed to this tragedy, we will act firmly and decisively,” said Implats.
Asked to comment on the length of a possible shutdown, Theron told Miningmx the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy would allow the company to use its own judgement in applying stoppages.
While Rustenburg Mines was likely to resume production relatively quickly, 11 shaft could be out of action “for the foreseeable future”, said analysts at Bank of America. The shaft’s annual production was about 173,000 oz 6E.
Nico Muller, CEO of Implats confirmed that mining from 11 Shaft and 11C Shaft would “remain closed until all internal processes are complete”.
The accident, which occurred on Monday afternoon, has significantly worsened a difficult year for Implats. The company, as with every other PGM miner, is struggling with a decline in metal prices which have squeezed operating margins.
Implats said earlier this month that it had embarked on a process of voluntary retrenchments. Theron told Reuters that while its shafts were not lossmaking they were just getting by.
The tragedy will also come as a blow to the South African mining sector’s attempts to improve safety where progress had been registered. “It serves as a stark reminder that there can never be any lapse in focus and vigilance regarding safety on mines,” said Japie Fullard chair of the Minerals Council’s ‘CEO Zero Harm Forum’.
Mining fatalities fell to a record low in South Africa last year. The 2022 Mine Health and Safety Statistics reported that 49 mineworkers died on the job in 2022 compared with 74 in 2021 and 60 in 2020. As of November 24, the mining industry had recorded 41 fatalities compared to 44 the same period a year earlier, said the Minerals Council.