Anglo pays silicosis compensation to 23 workers, more to follow

Anglo American SA paid silicosis compensation to 23 former gold miners in September 2013, in a deal that could pave the way for a mass payout by all mines.

The 23 were former underground mineworkers at Anglo American’s Free State mines, such as President Steyn mine. Their civil compensation is for pain and suffering, lost earnings and medical expenses, after contracting silicosis and silico-tuberculosis (TB).

“The claim that is being settled is for 18 President Steyn claimants, and five other claimants who worked at other Anglo American mines. The 23 claimants are 15 living former miners, and eight widows,” said their lawyer, Richard Meeran of Leigh Day, a London-based human rights law company.

The cost of the South African civil silicosis compensation settlement to the 23 remains confidential. A spate of civil compensation claims followed asbestosis cases brought by SA-based human rights lawyer Richard Spoor against defunct companies in London a decade ago.

In December last year, Spoor filed an application for a class action on behalf of 17 000 former gold miners in South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho, against 30 gold producers, including Anglo Gold, Ashanti, Goldfields, and Harmony.

The case, the first of its kind in South African law, could be Africa’s biggest class action suit and could result in payouts of hundreds of millions.

Spoor’s current suit, likely to go on trial in 2014, is based on a 2011 constitutional court ruling in favour of silicosis sufferer Thembekile Mankayi, who sought $342 000 in civil compensation. He had died shortly before the ruling was delivered.

Anglo does not admit silicosis liability

Meeran, who first brought the September 2013 case against Anglo SA in 2004, said his clients were very happy with the terms.

The miners claimed they contracted the disease from inhaling dangerous levels of silica dust while rock drilling rock. The symptoms of silicosis include persistent coughing and shortness of breath.

Anglo noted that the settlement involved no admission of liability, and was in the best interests of the plaintiffs, their families and the company.

“No legal precedent has been set, but the settlement sends a signal [to other employers],” Meeran said at a news conference in Johannesburg. “This settlement shows that the writing is on the wall for the industry.”

Tip of the silicosis, TB, HIV iceberg

Anglo American had sold its gold assets a decade ago and moved its headquarters to London in 1999, a year after grouping its gold operations into Anglo Gold, now Anglo Gold Ashanti.

Tens of thousands of miners in South Africa and neighboring countries have contracted silicosis, which makes sufferers susceptible to tuberculosis (TB).

Many died after their return to rural areas, with inadequate access to health care, and many still live in ill health, a major and extensive academic study found four years ago.

The study found several causes for what it termed a triple pandemic of silicosis, TB and HIV, including lack of information, awareness, training, equipment, leadership, and primary health care.

For their part, some miners were known to live fast, to be easily lured by production bonuses, and to disregard some health and safety precautions and procedures.

Anglo said after the September 2013 ruling; “We continue to work with industry, government and civil society to tackle the many challenges of primary health care in South Africa.”

* See this post on the legal requirement for SA mines to manage TB and HIV by 2013;

* See this post on how to develop an occupational health policy;

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