South African Mine Fire Heats Up Mine Safety Concerns Image: Thinkstock

South African Mine Fire Heats Up Mine Safety Concerns

Miners' union questions the safety of Harmony Gold mines after another underground fire threatens workers' lives.

Officials are calling it a success.

The nearly 500 minders trapped underground at a South African goldmine Sunday all were rescued.

More than 12 hours after a fire broke out, the operator of the Kusasalethu mine, Harmony Gold Mining Co. Ltd., said all 486 workers trapped had been brought to the surface.

The fire is thought to have started 7,546 feet underground while maintenance was being performed on a bulk air cooler.

“We are extremely grateful that all of our colleagues have been brought to surface, without injury. This is to the credit of our systems, employees, the unions and mine management who have worked tirelessly over the past 12 hours. I also want to extend our thanks to mine rescue services for their efforts,” CEO Graham Briggs said in a statement.

But the National Union of Mine Workers is “deeply concerned on the trend of underground fires happening within Harmony operations.”

An underground fire at the company’s Doornkop mine in January 2014 resulted in the death of eight workers, NUM said. And two more underground fires occurred at the Kusasalethu mine in 2014, but those were without injury.

“As a union, we are deeply concerned about the trend that continues to threaten the lives of many workers in Harmony operations,” NUM said.

The union issued a call to action to Harmony Gold to improve its health and system.

All operations at the Kusasalethu mine, apart from those related to the rescue efforts, were suspended, Harmony Gold said in an early statement.

The Department of Mineral Resources –in cooperation with Harmony Gold – will lead an investigation into the fire.

“We will participate fully in the investigation into the events that led to the fire. Whatever answers are arrived at, from both the official DMR investigation and our own internal enquiry will be used to inform measures to be taken to prevent a recurrence,” Harmony Gold COO Alwyn Pretorius said.

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