JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of striking miners took to the streets in Johannesburg Tuesday in a protest over safety levels in the industry.
Some 30,000 protesters gathered outside the Chamber of Mines in the city center to call for greater safeguards for miners after 226 miners died underground this year to September, the National Union of Mineworkers said.
Superintendent Lungelo Dlamini, a spokesman for Johannesburg police, said police estimated that at least 5,000 people attended the rally, though he said that the figure could be as high as 30,000. Dlamini said the event was peaceful and there had been no arrests.
The 270,000-member mineworkers' union, which called the one-day action, said it was the first industry-wide strike to hit the mining sector in the country's history.
South Africa is a leading producer of gold and platinum and has some of the deepest mines in the world -- some over two miles underground.
However, the mineworkers' union said not enough is being done to protect the safety of its members, with the number of deaths on the job for 2007 already surpassing the figure for all of 2006 by 27.
Speaking on the phone from the rally, union spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the protest sent a "clear message" to mine owners that action needed to be taken.
"There are thousands of thousands of people here, we are very excited by this turnout. The message is clear: We need action," Seshoka said, estimating that around 30,000 people were present for event.
The union had earlier predicted that around 40,000 of its members would join the protest march.
The protest follows a high-profile accident in October at Harmony Gold's Elandrand mine. A shaft elevator malfunctioned, trapping 3,200 workers underground for almost two days.
After the incident, Thabo Mbeki, South African president, ordered a safety audit of all the country's mines.
The protesters converged at the Library Gardens en route to the Chamber of Mines, whose members include major mining firms such as Gold Fields, Anglo Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin.
Mining companies have insisted they are also concerned about safety standards in their mines.
David Brown, chief executive of Implats, the platinum mining firm, said safety remained the company's first priority, the South African Press Association reported.
"Whilst our safety performance in financial year 2007 was disappointing, our record shows a steady improvement over the previous five years," he told the news agency.
Production was severely affected by the strike action by miners, who receive the lowest pay in the industrial sector in South Africa, the agency said.
Gold Field's spokesman Andrew Davidson said about 67 percent of the mines' workforce had not reported for work on Tuesday, it reported.
At Kloof gold mine, around 40 miles South-West of Johannesburg, 76 percent of the workforce stayed away from work, the news agency said. E-mail to a friend
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