Miner safety

Fatal Harmony accident must be investigated


Early warning systems existed to predict natural occurrences, such as seismic activity that might lead to mining accidents- nut they were not always “foolproof”, said Warren Beech, head of mining for Hogan Lovells South Africa, after eight bodies had been recovered from Harmony Gold’s Doornkop shaft, wests of Johannesburg.

Nine workers were unaccounted for by Wednesday evening after fire broke out some 1700 metres below surface the evening before.  One miner was still missing underground yesterday.

Workers gathered at the mine yesterday to pay tribute to those killed, while Mining Indaba MD Jonathan Moore, in his opening remarks on the last day of the event in Cape Town yesterday, also expressed condolences to the families.

“Mines should also have an adequate support system – beams, backup systems and a plan to act decisively in the event of an unpredicted natural disaster,” Beech said.  “But even this was not a sure-fire way to prevent deaths, due to the inherent danger of mining.”

A small earthquake had likely caused an underground rock fall, which sparked the fire.

Beech said while stakeholders had bought in to improved safety measures, resulting in a remarkable reduction in mine-related fatalities over the past five years, strikes often broke momentum of the safety programmes, leaving the industry’s “zero harm” target “ theoretically possible, but a monumental challenge in practice.”

The Minister of Mineral Resources, Susan Shabangu, and Cosatu echoed an earlier call by National Union of Mineworkers for an investigation into the deaths.

The Chamber of Mines said the accident was unfortunate, given the “good safety performance of the mine over the years.”

Ernest Wolmarans, The Citizen

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Issue 42