I attended as a facilitator, a Reliability Engineering forum of Rio Tinto specialists from Palabora Copper, Rӧssing Uranium and Richards Bay Mineral Sands Mines.

The forum was in the posh Hans Merensky Country Club in the fringes of the Kruger Park. One of the items in the program was a visit to Palabora underground operation. Located 360km north east of Pretoria, close to the Kruger National Park, Palabora is South Africa's leading copper producer, and is also a major source of vermiculite and baddeleyite (zirconium oxide).

Palabora Mining Company Limited (Palabora), is a member of the Rio Tinto Group of Companies, situated in the Ba-Phalaborwa area of Limpopo in South Africa. Palabora operates a large block cave copper mine and smelter complex employing approximately 2200 people. Useful byproduct metals and minerals include zirconium chemicals, magnetite and nickel sulphate as well as small quantities of gold, silver and platinum.

As we said above we visited the underground operations of the Palabora mine. The operations are situated “THREE KILOMETERS!!!” below the surface a constant chilling reminder during the tour. The Australians in the group all followed closely on TV an accident that occurred in a gold mine in the north of Tasmania just a few months before, where two miners were trapped one kilometre down the mine.

When we boarded the lift that took us down the mine we looked at each other questioning the wisdom of going down three times that depth. The only thing that calmed us was the knowledge that almost one thousand people make this trip everyday.