Platinum group metals (PGMs) miner Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) on January 27 lamented increased levels of absenteeism and a 13% regression in its total recordable case frequency rate (TRIFR) for the fourth quarter of 2021, which Amplats CEO Natascha Viljoen said was related to Covid-19.
“Operating in a Covid-19 environment continues to bring challenges,” she said in a statement.
Amplats’ TRIFR regressed from 2.25 per million hours in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 2.55 per million hours in the fourth quarter of 2021.
The company said turnaround plans were implemented to address the increase in injuries, which were linked to the consequences of Covid-19. The resulting instability was attributed to causes such as higher absenteeism as employees isolated during recovery.
However, despite the outbreak of the Omicron variant towards the end of 2021, Viljoen said the company did see a “substantial improvement” in December. She said the month boasted the lowest number of recorded injuries for the whole year, with a TRIFR of 1.53 per million hours worked.
As of December 31, 71% of Amplats’ workforce had received their first Covid-19 vaccination and 55% had received their second vaccination. The company has since implemented the roll-out of booster vaccinations for employees.
“Our focus remains on continuing to improve our safety performance across all the operations,” she said.
Although the TRIFR regressed, Amplats was able to report no work-related fatalities at its own-managed operations in the fourth quarter. No fatalities were reported at any of its own-managed operations in the first, second or third quarters either, meaning that these operations were fatality-free for the whole year, bringing the total to 471 days fatality-free at year-end.
Additionally, the Modikwa platinum mine, in Gauteng – which is a joint venture between Amplats and diversified miner African Rainbow Minerals – also achieved a safety record by being fatality-free for the year.
Unfortunately, Amplats’ non-managed joint operation Kroondal, in the North West province, which is operated by precious metals miner Sibanye-Stillwater subject to a 50:50 pooling and sharing agreement, recorded two work-related fatalities for the year.
In terms of production, Amplats reported a strong performance in the fourth quarter.
Total PGMs production was up 3% year-on-year, at more than 1.1-million ounces.
At the company’s own-managed mines, 634 600 oz of PGMs were produced in the fourth quarter, taking full-year output to more than 2.4-million ounces.
Viljoen said this was partly attributed to stronger production from the company’s own-operated Amandelbult and Unki mines, which increased production by 27% and 4% respectively for the full year, compared with 2020.
She noted that a strong performance from the jointly-owned Modikwa mine also played a part, owing to a 46% increase in output to 72 800 oz, which was attributed to significant improvements in mining and safety performance.
Kroondal, however, did not fare as well. The mine’s PGMs production decreased by 14% to 126 800 oz year-on-year. The decrease was blamed on difficult mining ground conditions, the planned ramp-down of Simunye shaft as its life-of-mine comes to an end, as well as underground safety stoppages following two fatalities in October 2021.
The Amplats-operated Mogalakwena mine increased its throughput by 5% in terms of tonnes milled during the fourth quarter of 2021. However, the mine experienced a 7% lower built-up head grade as grades normalised over the year. This took place after mining a particularly high-grade area in 2020.
The own-operated Mototolo mine’s PGMs production decreased by 18% year-on-year to 56 900 oz. The decrease was attributed to lower-grade material being mined because of dilution from poor geological conditions. The poor performance was also blamed on the impact of regional community unrest, which affected mine access and production for five days.
In terms of refined PGMs, production for the quarter increased by 107% to more than 1.3-million ounces. The strong performance from the processing assets resulted in a further reduction of PGMs work-in-progress inventory.
Viljoen lauded the consistent performance of the Anglo Converter Plant in Rustenburg, which was brought online towards the end of 2020 after a rebuild.
“Our full-year refined production increased by 89% compared to 2020, reaching a new record and meaning we largely reduced our work-in-progress inventory levels during the year, ahead of initial forecasts,” Viljoen said.
PGM sales volumes increased by 70% to more than 1.2-million ounces, which was enabled by the increase in refined production. Sales were slightly lower than refined production owing to the need to rebuild refined metal inventory to more normal levels following robust demand earlier in the year, Viljoen explained.
Production of base metals, such as copper and nickel, increased by 45% year-on-year, with nickel up 53% to 5 700 t and copper up 34% to 4 000 t owing to high base metal loaded areas mined at Mogalakwena during the year.
“We look forward to improving on our performance in 2022,” Viljoen said.
Amplats’ production guidance for 2022 was set between 4.1-million and 4.5-million ounces of metal in concentrate. Refined production guidance for 2022 was set between 4.2-million and 4.6-million ounces – subject to the potential impact of State-owned utility Eskom load-shedding. The company said that all production guidance was also subject to the extent of further Covid-19-related disruptions.
Unit cost guidance for 2022 was expected to be between R13 800/oz and R14 500/oz of PGMs.