Sasol coal miners claim civil damages for disease

A group of Sasol coal miners are claiming civil damages for disease, instead of industrial compensation, in 2015.

The 22 current and former workers of Secunda have occupational diseases from exposure to coal dust, said Richard Spoor, veteran of occupational health class suits, reports Bloomberg.

He filed a civil action at the South Gauteng High Court on 2 April. The South African highest court four years ago cleared the way for seeking civil damages for disease contracted at work, despite legally exclusive compensation mechanisms.

The landmark case was a ruling that former miner Thembekile Mankayi could pursue a R2.7-m civil claim against AngloGold Ashanti, a company whose predecessor was formed in 1997 when Anglo American merged its gold mines.

Compensation mechanisms differ in mining, construction (FEM and metallurgy, see posts on Sheqafrica.com), and general industries (COID Act and Compensation Fund.

However the legal principle is the same; employers contribute to a compensation insurance fund, and gain protection from civil suits. That protection has been breached in mining, and metallurgy could be next (see older posts on Sheqafrica.com).

Sasol Mining said it was assessing the suit, and it takes the protection of health and safety of employees and the employees of contractors and service providers very seriously.

The miners worked at sites near Secunda in Mpumalanga province, some since 1971. Coal dust can cause pneumoconiosis, progressive massive fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

‘Lack of PPE and hygiene training’

The miners allege that “Sasol Mining failed to provide and maintain a working environment that was safe and without risk to the health of its employees, and failed to comply with relevant statutory and common law duties,” said Spoor.

They allege that personal protective equipment (PPE) was not provided, and employees were not made aware of the danger and risk of coal dust.

Sasol Mining replied that they “continuously adhere to the Mine Health and Safety Act, as well as all other applicable legislation… We remain committed to promoting a healthy workforce through a proactive and strategic approach to occupational health.”

Spoor had won a R490-m civil damages for disease settlement from Gencor in London twelve years ago after representing South African workers at the company’s asbestos mines.

The Mankayi ruling has also made the Sasol civil damages for disease litigation possible, Spoor said. More coal-mining claims may follow. -Bloomberg

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Edmond Furter

Editor at Sheqafrica.com
Edmond Furter is the editor of Sheqafrica.com. He is a freelance technical journalist, and has won six journalism awards. He specialises in industrial, business, and cultural content in web, journal, and book formats.