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Hartebeestfontein, 21 July 1997

18 Miners lost their lives to rockfalls as earth tremors shook the Hartebeestfontein Gold Mine near the North West Province town of Klerksdorp.

The rockfalls followed an earth tremor measuring an estimated magnitude of 5 on the Richter scale and with an epicentre lying far below the mine’s workings at a depth of 5,000 metres. This caused some roof supports to be destroyed and others displaced.

Updated and new standards for roof support have been introduced across the mining industry over the years as research and development have delivered technological improvements. These improvements are designed to protect miners from catastrophic events, and to give them time to evacuate an affected area or to find safe shelter. Chief among these are refuge bays, located close to working places, equipped with oxygen, water and telephone links to the surface.

An investigation into the leading causes of fatalities indicated that fall of ground (FoG) related incidents remain a significant contributor. The industry has, however, seen a steady decrease in seismic-related rock burst fatalities as a result of initiatives focusing on in-stope preconditioning to help prevent and manage rock bursts. In addition, the Council for Geoscience’s instruction for reporting on seismicity has increased the industry’s focus on its monitoring. Further improvements are still needed, though, to effectively manage FoG accidents.

To this end, the Minerals Council’s CEO of the Zero Harm Forum mandated the Rock Engineering Technical Committee of the Minerals Council, with the support of the South African National Institute of Rock Engineering, to present an action plan to eliminate FoG fatalities. After extensive deliberations, including consultative workshops, six recommendations were made for the Elimination of FoG Fatalities Action Plan. This approved Action Plan is available in summary here:

http://www.safetyandhealthinmining.co.za/resources/publications#factsheets

Today, we mourn the loss of the people whose lives were taken in this tragedy. The South African mining industry strives to ensure that every mineworker returns from work unharmed and in sound health every day.