Situated in the West Wits area of AngloGold Ashanti's South Africa region, TauTona mine (the name means 'mighty lion' in seSotho) employs some 5,000 people and currently operates at the deepest level in the world. The deepening project currently under way will take the mine to 128 level using a twin decline system, and will result in mining being carried out at depths of around 4,000 metres.
TauTona's commitment to safety was, for several years, demonstrated by a safety record comparable with best practice anywhere in the world. TauTona has been a winner of the South Africa region's safety competition on two occasions (2000 and 2002), and has been acknowledged by the Mine Health and Safety Council through the award of its Safety Flag in 2000 and 2001.
TauTona's exemplary safety record was dealt a blow by two seismic events in the first half of 2003, which together claimed nine lives. The mine recorded a total of 14 fatalities in 2003. Accidents at the mine claimed the lives of 11 people in 2004 - four of whom died in seismicity-related accidents.
"As a result of these events, we reviewed both the areas which we mine and our mining methods. Development on 109 and 112 levels, which mined under an advancing abutment, was stopped. This resulted in a change from a sequential grid mining method to the more usual longwall mining," says former general manager Robbie Lazare. (Lazare was appointed executive officer for South African operations in December 2004.) Where mining is carried out by the longwall method, development is always behind the moving face, minimising the risk of damage to haulages.
"We have also drilled one long cover hole - some 1,000 metres in length - to enable us to get as much information as possible about the geology of the area ahead of the face," adds Lazare. It is planned to start drilling two more such holes, at levels 115 and 118, before the end of 2005.
Following a fatality in the shaft pillar area on 29 September 2004 at Level 101 East 2 panel, a further review of support systems was undertaken. Lourens Smit, senior occupational environmental safety and health manager, explains that two outputs have arisen from this review. "We have introduced the use of cementitious backfill rather than the conventional slurry in certain high-risk areas." (Backfill refers to the use of waste material or rock integrated with timber props to support the hanging wall after removal of ore from a stope.) Roof bolting of stopes in the shaft pillar area is also being introduced.
"The interventions have borne fruit. The mine had four seismic-related fatalities this year, compared to 11 for the same period last year."
The behavioural aspects of safety have also been integral to TauTona's efforts during 2004. In common with the other South African operations, TauTona held a major safety launch, dovetailed into the South Africa region's 'safe acts save lives initiative', in March 2004.
More than 90% of the mine's workforce has been trained in the principles of behaviour-based safety, through the 'yellow glove' campaign (based on the DuPont principles). Some 1,500 behaviour based safety observation are currently carried out in working places each month.
Says senior human resources manager Gops Modise, "The intervention has been well received. There were initially some problems in that some supervisors understood this as replacing conventional discipline. We are currently working on integrating the 'yellow glove' programme with the normal principles of basic supervision."
The development of mine-based rescue teams is another initiative that has been concluded this year. This pilot project has been carried out at TauTona with the help of the Mines Rescue Service (MRS). There are now two fully trained rescue teams at TauTona, each comprising team members from the various critical occupations, who have already been involved in three rescue operations. (See Report to Society