AMCU shocked over two horrible accidents at Impala

SUMMARY:  The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) is shocked after two (2) horrible accidents which occurred at Impala Platinum over the past weekend.  The first accident claimed the life of one (1) mineworker while the second accident killed three (3) mineworkers.  The Union will participate in the investigation while repeating its clarion calls for amendments to the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) and an inquest into the escalating deaths in the mining sector to be instituted by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE).

Around 13:00 on Saturday, 27 November 2022, a 38-year-old Rock Drill Operator (RDO) was busy drilling a shot hole in the mining panel, when a pocket containing methane gas exploded and fatally injured him.  Two (2) other mineworkers were injured and are currently hospitalised.  The accident happened at 26 Level, 16 Shaft of Impala Platinum’s Rustenburg operations.  The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) is currently busy with an in loco investigation, which will be followed by Impala’s own investigation in terms of section 11(5) of the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA).

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and loved ones of this relatively young breadwinner”, said AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa.  “Nobody can fully understand the pain and suffering that his family must be going through, as well as the difficulties that they might yet face to survive without their provider.  We pray that God will comfort them during this difficult time”, Mathunjwa added.

The second accident occurred at around 12:00 on Sunday, when a team of mineworkers were cleaning the escape route at 6 Shaft of Impala Platinum’s Rustenburg operations.  According to reports, while the team was cleaning the escape route, they were caught unaware by a mud rush and water inundating them with extremely high pressure.  The team consisted of seven (7) mineworkers including the Foreman.

When the mud rush started, two (2) of the mineworkers managed to escape by using an alternative incline which rose above the mud level, but the remaining five (5) were trapped.  Two (2) of the five (5) were subsequently rescued and rushed to hospital.  It is reported that they survived by being able to rise above the mud and breathe in a space of around 15cm to the top of the opening.  They suffered from inter alia hypothermia due to the extended exposure to the cold mud around them.

A rescue operation continued from that time until around 22:10 last night, when the remaining two (2) bodies were discovered.  They had died from their injuries.  This means that a total of three (3) mineworkers lost their lives in this accident.

AMCU National Chairperson: Health and Safety Desk, Xolani Bokoloshe, spent the whole of yesterday at the mine.  He reports that AMCU met with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) as well as senior management of the mine, including the CEOs of Implats and Impala Platinum.  The National Chairperson also went underground to do an in loco inspection.

“It was really an experience to go underground and witness the situation with my own eyes”, said Bokoloshe.  “I believe this crew should never have worked in this dangerous place, and that there was never a proper risk assessment conducted.  It is clear to me that the escape route was not properly prepared in case of such an emergency”, he said.

“However, we applaud all mineworkers who volunteered and assisted with the rescue operation.  Around 150 of them stood in a long queue, passing 20-litre buckets of mud from one to another over a distance of almost 250 metres in order to clean the area for the rescue team”, he said.  “They worked hard and tirelessly in the hope of saving their comrades”, said Bokoloshe.

“This was truly a horrible weekend for mine safety”, said Mathunjwa.  “Our sincere condolences to out to the families and loved ones of our fallen comrades”, he said.  “As AMCU, we will participate fully in the investigations to follow and ensure that we uncover the true cause of these terrible accidents.  We believe that this crew should never have been put at risk by entering this working place, if it was clear that it was dangerous”, he said.  “We reserve further comments until the investigation is finalised”, Mathunjwa concluded.

AMCU has consistently called for the strengthening of the DMRE through the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA), and specifically for mine bosses to be held criminally liable for accidents where negligence can be proven.  The Union previously made submissions for amendments to the MHSA in this regard, and it continuously repeats this call.  AMCU also recently called on the DMRE to lead an inquest into the rising mining fatalities this year.

For interviews:  Xolani Bokoloshe (082-495-5861)