(Writes through with mine may resume blasting on Saturday)
By James Macharia
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Harmony Gold’s (HARJ.J) South African Elandsrand mine, which suffered an accident last month, is likely to resume full output by Monday as scheduled, and some parts may resume blasting and production by Saturday.
Harmony, which shut the shaft in early October after an accident damaged a shaft used for transporting workers, trapping 3,200 miners 2.2 km underground for more than 24 hours, said on Friday the mine had been examined and was in good working order.
Harmony, the world’s fifth-biggest gold producer, said after conducting safety checks on underground panels on Friday, that it may resume production in areas it found safe for blasting.
About 40 percent of the underground areas were found to be safe to re-start blasting and production, while the rest would be made ready in the next few days, Alwyn Pretorius, Harmony’s chief operating officer told Reuters.
“We will certainly start production on some of the areas found to be safe tomorrow (Saturday),” Pretorius told Reuters.
“Within three days or so we expect the whole mine to be in production. I believe by Monday we will be able to produce throughout the mine, without an safety issues.”
Harmony had previously said it hoped to re-open the mine on Nov. 19, and that it would lose a total of 1,000 kg in gold output during the closure, following the accident on Oct. 3.
The miners were trapped when an air pipe broke off and hurtled down the shaft, damaging steelwork and severing an electrical cable carrying power to the main lift.
A joint examination of the shaft by Harmony, the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) and unions had found the shaft, used for both workers and material, to be in good working order.
Harmony also said it would present the findings of a probe into the shaft accident to the government on Monday.
The firm did not disclose the findings.
“Management is committed to ensure that the start-up of the mine is done safely and free of any further incidents regardless of time delays,” Harmony said in a statement.
The Minister for Minerals and Energy, Buyelwa Sonjica and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the country’s biggest miners union, blamed poor safety standards, shoddy maintenance and Harmony’s practice of mining 24 hours a day for the mishap.
But the company defended its maintenance record, safety standards and also said continuous operations was not to blame.
President Thabo Mbeki ordered all the country’s mines to undergo safety audits in the wake of the accident. The audits have yet to start, but a government team has said it was planning how the exercise will be conducted.
The mishap also added fuel to plans by the NUM for a one-day nationwide strike to protest against accidents and deaths at mines in the country and force companies to focus on safety.
The NUM has applied for a permit to strike and is awaiting a go-ahead from authorities to allow its 300,000 members to down their tools in the world’s biggest producer of precious metals.
So far around 180 workers have been killed in accidents at mines this year, some of which are the world’s deepest, compared to about 200 deaths last year, officials have said.
Reporting by James Macharia; Editing by Chris Johnson