Operations halted at Palabora Copper Mine after worker’s death
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Pretoria - For nearly two weeks, production was halted, and an investigation instituted into the death of a mineworker at the Palabora Copper Mine.
Anaph Seemela was allegedly crushed to death by a diverter car on the premises on October 16 in an incident that has shone the spotlight on the mine’s safety conditions.
The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is establishing the exact cause of what is the second fatal incident in the last three years at the mine. In 2018, five miners were burnt to death after a conveyor belt caught fire underground.
The department issued a notice of orders, suspension and instructions to the mine last week.
Seemela had worked as a handling operator at the mine for 15 years and, according to the mine management, the incident had no witnesses, prompting the department to launch the investigation.
Production at the underground mine was suspended while departmental inspectors were on-site to investigate the accident.
Palabora Copper Mine spokesperson Abbey Ledwaba said: “We are in the process of conducting an investigation jointly with organised labour to try and establish what happened. The internal investigation will be succeeded by a more formal investigation that will be led by the department in the presence of the Seemela family, mine representatives and organised labour.”
Pretoria News can reveal through an insider at the mine that the diverter car under investigation was not moving between the two paths as was expected. The source said: “The ore handling and control room operators suspect that the fault was due to obstruction made by ore along the diverter car path.” According to the insider, Seemela was trying to clean the path with a water pipe when the accident took place.
“The diverter car does not move using normal speed. An air leak from the solenoid caused the pressure to drop below 500kPa, and this was not reported. The diverter car did not have a pre-start alarm installed, which means the machine moved without warning the operator.”
The source said the diverter car was marked safe for use while it operated with defects and had not been tested for functionality.
The department has since instructed the mine to suspend activities and to withdraw authorisation of the control room operator and responsible artisans until a proper investigation has been concluded.