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Impala Rustenburg 11 Shaft, 11C Shaft to remain closed while investigations continue

Impala Rustenburg 11 Shaft

Photo by Jacques McCarthy

29th November 2023

By: Creamer Media Reporter

     

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Platinum group metals miner Impala Platinum (Implats) has confirmed that operations at Impala Rustenburg's 11 Shaft and 11C Shaft will remain closed until all internal processes have been completed.

This follows the death of 11 employees and the injury of another 75 in a safety incident at 11 Shaft on Monday evening.

The company says it has a strong understanding of what happened on Monday evening, but is still investigating how it could have happened.

"The answer to that question and other concerns may take some time to accurately establish. We are working closely with the relevant authorities and will provide additional updates when possible and appropriate," it says.

In an update on what it has been able to establish thus far, the miner says the accident involved the personnel conveyance, also known as a lift or elevator, at 11 Shaft, which is about 1 000 m deep with operations across 20 levels.

After ascending as scheduled towards 17 level, the conveyance unexpectedly reversed direction and began descending back down through the shaft. The emergency protocol for such an incident was immediately and automatically activated.

Although the winder rope remained intact, the emergency protocol failed to immediately arrest the lift’s rapid descent.

"The lift came to a sudden stop at 20 level, some 180 m below 17 level close to the bottom of 11 Shaft, when the counterweight, which balances the conveyance system reached the top of the winding infrastructure on surface, and as designed, was caught in jack catches.

"This resulted in a sudden, almost instantaneous deceleration, the force of which severely impacted the 86 employees who were standing upright in the three levels of the lift at the time. Given that the lift was still attached to the winder rope as it slipped, the lift was not in freefall and, as a result, the precise break force is not currently known.

"The mechanisms used to operate the conveyance system, and the safety protocols involved in arresting falls in such systems, are known to be safe and are used in mining operations globally. The failure of the arrest safety protocol is therefore unusual, highlighting the tragic nature of this accident," Implats explains.

Implats emphasises that safety remains the foremost priority for the company.

"We are devastated we have not been able to sustain the great strides taken in achieving the lengthy fatality-free performance the team at 11 Shaft had worked so hard to achieve.

"Investigations into the incident will continue until all possible causes are identified, and mitigating actions will be implemented group-wide to prevent another accident of this nature. Should any human error or negligence be found to have contributed to this tragedy, we will act firmly and decisively," it states.

Meanwhile, Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy chairperson Sahlulele Luzipo has expressed his and the committee's condolences to the families and friends of the deceased mineworkers.

He says news of fatalities at mines always comes as a shock owing to the fact that the safety of mineworkers ought to be a matter of priority at all times.  

“Also, it is unfortunate that the committee is working towards wrapping up its work for the sixth Parliament without the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy having tabled the Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill to Parliament,” he adds.

The Department of Employment and Labour, meanwhile, says it is deeply saddened to have learned about the death of the 11 mineworkers.

"The department will ensure relevant support is provided where necessary and needed," says Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi.

He also urges those responsible for health and safety in the mines to conduct quick investigations, to establish whether there was negligence or not. If there was, the Minister emphasises that the law should take its course, within the relevant prescripts.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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