A fire broke out on Friday, 22 January at Rustenburg’s Impala (Implats) Platinum’s 14 Shaft in Luka, taking the lives of four miners. According to Implats, the four employees were overcome by fumes while they were trying to find their way to safety.
The mine which is located in a Bushveld Complex, Rustenburg comprises of 14 shafts of mines that include concentration and smelting plants. Implats Spokesperson, Johan Theron further explained that the fire was under control.
“To a large extent the fire has been extinguished, six respond teams are working underground. They are attending to smouldering areas and clearing,” Theron claimed during the time of the incident.
The tragic death of the miners was unfortunately unexpected. The Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane said he was "saddened by this tragic incident."
"The health and safety of workers is of paramount importance and should continue to be a priority in all operations," he added.
One of the deceased’s brother, Mosielele Johannes Sesimane (40) expressed his sorrow over his older brother’s death.
“We are hurt, it is difficult for us. He left behind his wife and child,” the deceased’s younger brother said.
Sesimane also confirmed that his brother was overpowered by the smoke and not burnt.
“I viewed my brother’s body. He is not burnt, his body is fine,” he explained after going to the Impala Platinum Hospital to receive his brother’s post-mortem results.
Implats also stated that a search and rescue operation for the four employees was initiated on Friday after all the other employees were safely evacuated from the shaft after the alarm had been raised.
The Chief Executive Officer at Implats explained that given the tragic loss and need to redouble efforts to achieve zero harm, they have resolved to close the entire mine to engage the full workforce on safety readiness and emergency awareness before contemplating reopening the 14 Shaft underground workings again.
The Minister, Zwane further stated that in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act, he has instructed that an investigation should commence urgently to determine what led to the incident. Furthermore, he stated that no mining will take place until the department has declared the area safe for workers.
“As the regulator of the mining industry, we take matters of health and safety extremely seriously. It is thus a serious concern to us when incidents such as these take place. We have always maintained that the loss of one life is one too many, and the goal for every mining operation should be that every worker returns home unharmed every single day,” Zwane added.
The Minister also made it clear that health and safety has to be everyone’s responsibility. He thus urged employers and employees alike to continue to prioritise health and safety. As the regulator Zwane stressed that they will continue to enforce compliance with the act, in order to ensure that mining-related deaths, injuries, and ill-health are reduced, and ultimately, that they reach their goal of ‘zero harm’.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) also expressed their sadness over the loss of lives at Impala.
“It is unacceptable that mineworkers are denied their basic human right to work in an environment that guarantees their safety and that, instead, they are expected to go to work to die. We are selling our labour for the survival of our families, not our limbs and lives,” said Erick Gcilitshana, NUM Health and Safety Secretary.
The union also stated that urgent action was needed to prevent worker fatalities at mines and more money needed to be spent on safety measures. This is after two fatalities occurred at the same shaft in December last year.
“We call upon the company to pull up its socks and improve its health and safety system. NUM members and other mineworkers are extremely worried about health and safety standards at Impala Platinum mine,” Gcilitshana requested.
Gcilitshana also further emphasized that it is unacceptable that mine workers are denied their basic human right to work in an environment that guarantees their safety and instead they are expected to go to work to die.