October 15, 2008 / 3:40 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-Gold Fields shuts Driefontein mine after death

(Adds detail, background)

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 15 (Reuters) - South Africa’s Gold Fields (GFIJ.J), the world’s No. 4 gold producer, said on Wednesday it had shut its Driefontein mine after earth tremors at shaft No. 5 killed one worker and trapped another underground.

Gold Fields said the shaft at Driefontein, one of Gold Fields’ key mines located near Johannesburg, had been hit by two tremors, and a team was searching for the trapped worker. Four other workers were injured, two of them seriously.

Willie Jacobsz, a spokesman for Gold Fields said he could not say how long the mine’s closure would last.

“Our main focus for now is to continue the search for the trapped worker,” he said.

A section of Driefontein has been closed in the quarter to end-September for support work to be installed, curbing output.

The mine produced 218,200 ounces in the June quarter, the highest output of any of its mines at the time. The group has gold mines in South Africa, Ghana, Australia and Peru.

South Africa has an appalling safety record, and about 140 workers have died in mines so far this year, compared to 221 in 2007 and 200 in 2006.

Gold Fields has had the worst record of deaths among mining companies, and it has vowed to cease mining if it cannot mine safely. At the time, it shut part of Driefontein for safety improvements, the company also closed the main shaft at its Kloof mine in South Africa for safety repairs.

Mining companies have suffered production losses after fatalities due to routine shutdowns ordered by the government for investigations and work stoppages by union members, who have vowed to stop work for a day to mark the death of colleagues.

Nick Holland, Gold Fields’ Chief Executive Officer, told Reuters last week that in the past four or five quarters, the group was losing an average of about 700 kg a quarter due to safety stoppages, but the losses had eased as safety improved.

Reporting by James Macharia; editing by Christopher Johnson

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