AngloGold stops output at mine after worker deaths

The deaths of four miners in a rockfall forced a halt to production at AngloGold Ashanti’s Mponeng underground mine on Monday while safety checks were carried out, the company said.

Increasing deaths at South Africa’s deep and treacherous underground mines have thrust safety into the spotlight in a country where about 200 miners are killed in accidents every year and labour unions have threatened to strike over safety.

A spokesperson at AngloGold, the world’s third-biggest gold producer, could not say when operations such as underground blasting of rock and drilling would resume.

“No ore is being produced, there is an underground inspection taking place at the entire mine,” AngloGold spokesperson Steve Lenahan told Reuters on Monday.

Lenahan said the Mponeng mine produced about 600 000 ounces of gold in 2006, out of a total of 2,6-million ounces produced by AngloGold from its South African operations in that year.

Five other workers were injured in the rockfall on Friday at the mine in Carletonville in Johannesburg.

The four were killed while working 3,3km below ground after an earth tremor measuring 1,8 on the Richter scale.

Lenahan said the death toll in the company’s South African mines stood at 23 since the start of the year.

Industrial action

He said a report of the inspection was due to be discussed with officials of the Department of Minerals and Energy later in the day.

In July the department, which has expressed its concern over the deaths at mines in South Africa, instructed AngloGold to shut the shaft at its Moab Khutsong in the North West province, after two miners were killed in a rockfall.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said companies need to either take the safety of workers more seriously or face industrial action that will force them to do so.

“Let companies invest more money in safety rather than production targets,” said Deon Boqwana, the NUM’s regional leader in Carletonville.

“The number of miners who die continues to sky-rocket with no safety improvements in sight. It looks like companies need a push from our members before they could act,” says Boqwana.

AngloGold’s incoming chief executive Mark Cutifani has said he wants to cut fatalities as a top priority.—Reuters

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