JOHANNESBURG, Aug 3 (Reuters) - The incoming chief executive at the world’s third biggest gold producer, AngloGold Ashanti Ltd (ANGJ.J), wants to cut the firm’s mine fatalities as a top priority, he said on Friday.
Increasing deaths at South Africa’s treacherous underground mines have thrust safety into the spotlight recently. The government briefly closed one of AngloGold’s mines last week after two more miners were killed in a rock fall.
Mark Cutifani, who takes over in October from retiring Bobby Godsell, told journalists one reason he was recruited was due to his strong record in improving safety in previous posts.
“People (at AngloGold) were very interested in the work we did in safety through our operations and I think we can add some value,” he said.
As chief operating officer at Canadian nickel producer Inco, now owned by Brazil’s CVRD VALE5.SA (RIO.L), the firm got the award for Canada’s safest mine for three years running and safety incidents were slashed by 70 percent over four years.
“And at the same time we had record productivity. I think we’ve proved that you can do both and I think it’s all about management and people,” said Cutifani, an Australian whose father was an Italian immigrant.
Boosting safety might be more difficult in South Africa, with labour-intensive mines that extend 3.5 km (2.2 miles) deep, than in Canada where there is more mechanisation, he added.
AngloGold launched a renewed safety campaign this year after mining deaths at its mines jumped to 37 in 2006 from 25 the previous year. During the first half of this year, 18 AngloGold mineworkers have died.
Safety issues were prominent in the decision to resign this week by Chief Executive Ralph Havenstein of Anglo Platinum (AMSJ.J), another firm under the umbrella of Anglo American Plc (AAL.L). He said someone new could prompt a “step change” in the firm’s safety record.
The new tough stand on safety within the Anglo American group has been largely driven by new CEO Cynthia Carroll, officials within the group have said.
The two departures of CEOs within Anglo companies this week, announced on successive days, were sharply different in terms of succession planning.
Havenstein’s departure appeared to be a last-minute decision since no successor was announced and two internal executives were named to act as interim CEOs.
In AngloGold’s case, Bobby Godsell had informed the board around a year ago that he would like to move on. He participated in interviews of candidates, but not the final decision, spokesman Steven Lenehan said.
The most recent experience of Cutifani, who came from a working class background and whose first job was in a coal mine, was in industrial metals, but he also has experience in gold.
He worked for Australia gold producers Normandy Mining, which was bought by Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM.N) for $2.99 billion in 2002, and Sons of Gwalia.
“I’m optimistic about the gold price ... particularly the cost structures, where they’ve been going. There’s got to be pressure on the gold price in the long haul.”
Major gold producers have been struggling to contain costs as a global commodities boom has led to a scarcity of materials and skilled labour.
Anglo American holds a 41.8 percent stake in South Africa’s AngloGold, but has said it plans to sell that interest over the next two years.