Trapped mine workers rescued

Friday, February 2, 2018

All 955 mineworkers, who were trapped at the Beatrix Sibanyoni mine near Theunissen, Welkom, in the Free State, have safely returned to the surface.

“Through a tremendous effort to install temporary power line pylons by both mine management and Eskom, power was successfully restored during the morning of 2 February 2018 and all employees were safely hoisted to surface,” Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman announced on Friday morning.

A severe storm during Wednesday night caused the collapse of both the primary and secondary Eskom power lines supplying electricity to the Beatrix Operations, causing a power surge and outage at all three shafts at its Beatrix Operations.

This meant that all the miners went underground on Wednesday night but were unable to be hoisted to surface.

According to the mine, emergency power supply from backup generators enabled it to bring about 300 workers to the surface using hoists powered by generators.

Froneman said the mine management remained in control throughout and were confident that the decisions made were in the interests of employee wellbeing.

“Mine rescue and medical teams were mobilised and due care was taken to ensure employees were safe and had access to food and water. Detailed contingency plans were made - mine rescue teams to evacuate employees through the second outlet at Beatrix 1 shaft, in the event that power was not restored,” Froneman said.

The power utility Eskom installed temporary power line pylons and power was successfully restored in the early hours of Friday morning which enabled all employees to be safely hoisted to surface.

Froneman said the employees will undergo thorough medical examination and trauma counselling, together with their families.

He thanked all the stakeholders for the prompt and composed response and thanked Eskom for the professional and efficient way they rose to the challenge to restore power to the operations.

“This is a significant rescue effort and one that all who participated in, can be extremely proud off, and it is a clear demonstration of the competence within the South African mining industry. The actions taken by management and decisions taken resulted in all of our employees returning safely to their families.”

However, the incident has caused an outrage regarding the lack of emergency contingency plans at the mine for alternative and back-up power generation.

The Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources chairperson Sahlulele Luzipo said: “It is utterly unacceptable that an underground mine whose operation takes place under the light of a bulb could attribute its failure to bringing workers on the surface to a power outage. This goes to demonstrate the attitude of management towards safety.”

The Committee said it expects a better and descent explanation on this accident, urging the Department of Mineral Resources to act swiftly and take drastic actions to such acts of carelessness.  

The same sentiment are also shared by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) who said this cannot be acceptable.

“AMCU insists that the mine should have its own backup arrangements for this kind of contingency. Mining is very unsafe, and mineworkers risk life and limb daily to put bread on the table for their families.”

Free State MECs, together with the Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, among others,  are due to visit the mine this afternoon to get a briefing on the measures in place to ensure the health and safety of employees in such instances.

It is expected that operations will resume at the mine on Monday. -

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