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Fatality in Gold Fields mine, company will change approach in South Deep

Staff Writer |
Gold Fields Limited announced a fatality at the South Deep mine in South Africa in a tramming-related accident.

South Deep management has suspended all hopper tramming activities, pending a full risk assessment, and has notified the Department of Mineral Resources.

CEO Nick Holland said: "This is a serious setback in our efforts to continuously improving safety at South Deep as it is the second fatality we have recorded this year." During 2016 the mine had reported one fatality.

"Until this year we had shown measureable improvement in safety behaviour and have spent considerable time and resources on making working conditions safer.

"These two fatalities tragically remind us that we can never lessen our resolve in prioritising safety at all our operations.

"Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased. Management will do everything possible to support them in this hour of need."

The latest iteration in getting Gold Fields’ South Deep mine operating to its potential has been unveiled by the firm following a 12-month review – the fruit of which is a five-year gold production target of 500,000 ounces a year produced at under $900/oz for a capital cost of R2.3bn.

South Deep has serially under-performed over its 20-years plus life for whoever has operated it, including Gold Fields. It was previously owned by Barrick Gold, Placer Dome and JCI before it.

In the hands of the late Brett Kebble, who was running JCI at the time, the mine was slated to produce more than 800,000 oz.

Gold Fields bought the mine from Barrick Gold for $1.53bn in December 2006 and has, over the years, lowered the mine’s productive capacity.

In May 2015, Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland’s 650,000 to 700,000 oz/year target for South Deep was in jeopardy as he dispensed with previous targets in favour of rescoping the entire mine.

Gold Fields today unveiled the results of this “rebasing plan” for South Deep in which it described how it identified four areas of focus: people and skills; fleet and management; underground working conditions, and mining method.

Holland said in a presentation this morning that the change in mining method was one of the main reasons why the new plan would work. “That’s the big difference,” he said.

In terms of South Deep’s plan, the mining method has been predicated on improving the overall footprint and layout of the mine.

“Everything we look at with South Deep is [informed by] that it’s a volume game,” said Holland. “We’ve had a lot of targets at South Deep. The team is very sensitive to that,” he added.

After taking stock of these four areas, it outlined a ramp-up schedule for the mine in which it was targeted to reach 315,000 oz in Gold Fields current (2017) financial year, increasing to 440,000 oz by 2020 until it reached just under 500,000 oz two years later.

For the 2016 financial year South Deep production came in at 290,000 oz – a year-on-year increase of 47%. The mine was also cash break-even in the period, a performance that Holland, described as “a watershed” moment.

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