It has emerged that a Sibanye Gold shaft manager allegedly told workers to continue working after the first ground collapse was heard three hours before the incident that claimed seven lives.
This was revealed yesterday when The Mercury interviewed a group of mineworkers who work on the Driefontein shaft in Carletonville where a seismic event (measuring 2.2 on the Richter scale) caused a ground collapse, trapping 13 workers on Thursday.
The company confirmed in a statement on Saturday that all 13 miners had been accounted for but seven had died.
Mineworkers blamed the company’s managers for putting profits ahead of their safety, claiming the recent death toll could have been avoided had proper safety precautions been followed.
A miner who was working on another side of the shaft said the first signs of trouble emerged around 10am when the ground shook slightly.
“The control room where possible rock movements are first detected alerted the shaft manager about what had happened. The manager dismissed this, saying the movement had occurred on the madala side (disused part of the shaft). He said it was still safe to carry on working as the madala side was too far from the working group,” said the worker.
The group carried on working until the second seismic event happened around 1pm, which caused the group of 13 miners to be trapped between rocks. In response to the allegations, Sibanye Gold spokesperson James Wellsted said the first surface movement happened about 2.5km from where the fatal one occurred.
“It was too far to have had an impact on that specific area (outside the zone of influence).
“The second seismic event happened right in front of the area they were working in.
“That was the one that caused the damage,” he said.
The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said it was alarmed at the poor safety record at Sibanye Gold and pleaded with the government to take stern action against the company.
“This happens barely a couple of months since two workers died at another Sibanye operation and 1100 workers were trapped underground for more than 20 hours at another Sibanye Stillwater Mining operation in Beatrix, Free State.
“Sibanye Stillwater’s deteriorating safety record is alarming, considering this is the company that was one of the safest companies in the gold sector in 2015. The Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Labour need to take seriously this deteriorating safety record by conducting a thorough investigation,” said the union’s spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla.
Cosatu and the National Union of Mineworkers are expected to picket at the Chamber of Mines offices this week to demand drastic action against deteriorating mine safety standards in the country.
The Department of Mineral Resources said seismic events accounted for 30% of last year’s death toll at mines, with Sibanye being one of the major contributors.
Minister Gwede Mantashe has put together a team to look into this urgently.