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SAfrican gold mine stops production after deaths

May 30, 2014

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African mine with one of the biggest known deposits of gold in the world has halted production after two employees died in underground accidents this month and the government ordered a stop on activities around the mine’s workshops.

A dump truck reversed over a contractor in one of the accidents at the South Deep mine, and another employee died when he was struck by part of a drill rig in a workshop, said Nick Holland, CEO of the Gold Fields company.

Holland said in a conference call with journalists and analysts on Thursday that he hopes some operations at the mine southwest of Johannesburg can resume early next week, though a plan to make underground ramps safer will take four months.

South African miners have traditionally used hand-held rock drills in tough and sometimes dangerous conditions. But Gold Fields, which has spent $4 billion on South Deep, has described its new mechanized operations there as beneficial for the safety of workers.

Holland said a lack of skills among workers may have contributed to the safety problems at South Deep, where experts from Gold Field’s Australian operations are helping to train employees in the mechanized work.

Last year, a drill-rig operator at South Deep died in a rock fall. At the time, it was the first fatal mine accident there in more than two years.

The mine has 4,000 employees and between 1,700 and 1,800 contractors, and Gold Fields is talking to unions about possible job cuts.

A labor group, the National Union of Mineworkers, said it was concerned about what it called a plan by Gold Fields to review 500 jobs at South Deep. It expressed concern about the two recent deaths and said the company was “destroying those who are still alive through retrenchment.”

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