NUM: Human error may have led to Harmony Gold blaze

All 486 mineworkers were rescued after a fire broke out underground.

Mine shaft. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - While Harmony Gold says an in-depth investigation will be conducted into an underground fire that saw almost 500 miners trapped near Carletonville on Sunday, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) says it appears human error led to the incident.

The fire was contained late last night and all 486 miners were rescued after spending hours in so-called 'refuge bays'.

Around 12 hours passed between when the fire broke out at the Kusasalethu Gold Mine more than two kilometres below the surface and confirmation that all the miners were safe.

The NUM's Frans Baleni says, "It's also extremely concerning that there seems to be a human error at this stage but we are waiting on a full investigation."

At the same time, the health and safety team from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) will this morning meet with management at the mine.

Amcu is the majority union at the mine and says it's relieved that there were no fatalities.

The Department of Mineral Resources is expected to take part in the investigation set up by Harmony Gold.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa says they will also call for a safety audit of Harmony Gold as the fire is the second of its kind at the company's operations.

"Surely the department should be concerned about this but as Amcu we will be raising the issue of a safety audit to check what was the cause because it's not the first time we experienced such a thing in the very same mine."

Last year, eight workers were trapped at Harmony's Doornkop Mine during a fire.

Investigations are now underway to determine the cause of a blaze.

Harmony Gold's Charmaine Russel says despite the hours the miners spent trapped underground, there were no reports of any injuries.

She says a full investigation will now unfold.

On Sunday night, President Jacob Zuma had expressed shock and concern for the miners asking the nation to keep them in their thoughts and prayers.