BHP Billiton Ltd/Plc has suspended operations at all its Australia iron ore mines following a worker fatality, a company spokeswoman said on Friday, citing concern for the safety of all its mine workers.
The fatality at BHP’s Yandi mine, in the Pilbara region of west Australia, is the second in 10 days and has raised concerns over safety for mine workers, the spokeswoman said.
“We’re concerned that incidents such as this may distract employees’ attention away from the task, which could put them at risk. So by suspending operations, we can reduce the risks associated with that.”
No date has been set to restart the mines, which yielded 91 million tonnes of ore last year. Almost all the ore is bought by steel mills in Asia.
BHP employs around 8 000 people across the Pilbara, roughly 18% of the region’s total population. It is the world’s third-largest supplier of iron ore after Brazil’s Vale and Rio Tinto Ltd/Plc .
Both deaths involved workers under contract to BHP from HWE Mining, owned by Leighton Holdings Ltd .
The latest fatality, caused by a collision between a light vehicle and a truck, occured on Thursday, the spokeswoman said.
The traded market for iron ore is sensitive to any disruptions to supply amid a global shortage brought on by growing orders from Asian steel makers.
Analysts said a short suspension could be deflected by consumers, particularly in China, where some 60 million tonnes of ore is stockpiled in ports –roughly one-month’s consumption –though a lengthy outage could pressure other suppliers.
“If it’s a day or two, that won’t cause much of a ripple, but if the mines remained closed for longer periods, say a week or more, then that could cause some issues,” DJ Carmichael & Co analyst James Wilson said.
Competition for ore has enabled BHP and other Australian miners to raise contract prices by as much as 86% this year.
Rio Tinto this week declared force majeure on some of its iron ore shipments after a rail car toppled into an ore dumper at an Australian port. No injuries were reported in that incident, according to a Rio Tinto spokesman.