by Nov 29, 2023Health and Safety, Mining, News

On 27 November 2023 a tragic accident happened at Impala’s 11 Shaft when, according to currently available reports, a 3-deck conveyance that was going to transport employees to surface, travelled down the shaft, and struck the concrete penthouse at shaft bottom. Again, according to publicly available reports, it appears that eleven persons were fatally injured, with a number of other employees, possibly injured.

Each and every day, thousands of employees on South African mines are transported to underground workings by means of a winder/hoisting system which includes a winding engine, conveyances, steel ropes and other infrastructure.

Many, many years ago, when I worked on one of South Africa’s old gold mines, I had to undergo training as an Onsetter – the person who rings the bells on the winding/hoisting system, to signal to a Winding Engine Driver to lower or raise the conveyance in the shaft (many of these systems are now automated but still rely on signals being sent to the system). We took for granted, each time that we stepped into the conveyance, that the Winding Engine Driver would execute the signals (instructions) correctly, and that both the mechanical and electric/electronic components of the winding system, would work as designed. Life literally “hung by a thread” namely the steel ropes that connect the conveyance (and counterweight in a single drum configuration), to the drums on the winding engine.

I recall a Mine Overseer who was particularly anxious about getting into the conveyance, and each time that there was a shudder (which was common in the very old shaft where I worked), he would grab my arm, sometimes to the point where I ended up with bruising. Several of his colleagues used to laugh at his behaviour and, in hindsight, we all took things far too lightly.

As members of the shaft team, we participated in the daily, weekly, monthly, 6-monthly and annual inspections on the hoisting system, and often, team members were irritated particularly at how long some of these inspections took. If there were any delays in these inspections, we also faced a barrage of abuse from persons underground if the shaft schedules including hoisting of persons to surface, was delayed, because of any additional aspects that were attended to during these inspections.

Without in any way speculating regarding the causes of the tragic 11 Shaft accident, the accident has highlighted just how important it is to conduct the required inspections (there are several statutory inspections that apply to winders and hoisting infrastructure) thoroughly, and not to adopt a “tick box” approach to inspections of any workplaces, equipment and infrastructure. I emphasise that the causes will be the subject of an extensive and comprehensive investigation by all relevant stakeholders.

For now, the focus must be on compassion and care for the families of the deceased employees, and other employees who have been injured.

The accident has also brought into stark focus that accidents can (and often do) occur when they are least expected and that it is vital to remain vigilant, particularly going into the last six weeks of 2023, taking into account the extremely difficult year that has been faced by all stakeholders in the mining industry.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all persons who have been affected by this accident.