Railway lines dropped down a shaft at a Sibanye-Stillwater platinum mine trapped 1,800 workers underground for hours, the company said on Tuesday.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) said 4,000 people were trapped underground at Sibanye’s Thembelani shaft near Rustenburg, but the company said the number was less than half that.
At about 1pm on Tuesday, steel railways were being lowered down the shaft when a few broke loose and fell, said company spokesperson James Wellsted.
An investigation is underway to inspect the shaft for damage and to remove at least two of the railways that had become jammed in the shaft.
Nobody was hurt in the incident and the employees underground completing their day shift are being kept near the shaft for when it re-open. Sibanye is sending down food and blankets to the areas where there is water and ventilation so employees are comfortable while they wait, Wellsted said.
If the wait proves too long, employees will be asked to walk to a second shaft about 2km or 3km away and be hoisted to the surface from there, but management prefers to keep everyone safely in one place for now, he said.
Sibanye brought 955 miners to the surface at its Beatrix gold mine in February 2018 after a storm damaged electricity supply to the operation and trapped them for more than 24 hours.
Sibanye, however, had a dismal track record at its gold mines during 2018, when in the first half of the year 21 employees were killed in a number of incidents, prompting a much tougher stance on safety.