Assmang leak fuels union call for action

2008-04-24 00:00

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) has called on government to take “extremely drastic measures” against the owners of the Assmang ferromanganese smelter in Cato Ridge after it was this week ordered by labour inspectors to shut down one of its furnaces, barely a week after the ban on the use of four furnaces there was lifted.

This comes after molten metal was found to have leaked from a hole of the furnace wall.

Numsa national spokesman Mziwakhe Hlangani told The Witness yesterday that the union is angered and frustrated by the incident, saying that the plant shows a “blatant disregard for its workers”.

Labour Department spokeswoman Zolisa Sigabi said an inspection conducted at the plant revealed that last Saturday, a finger-sized burn-through of the wall of furnace number two occurred, causing slag and molten metal to seep through the hole.

“The furnace had since been switched off by a supervisor with repair work currently under way. A prohibition notice served on the company has effectively halted all operations of the furnace until investigations are finalised.”

There were no injuries in that incident, but in a separate incident, inspectors also discovered that a worker sustained minor burns to the chest last Thursday while working at furnace three.

Meanwhile, Numsa said an investigation into the explosion that recently killed six metalworkers has found documentary evidence that management was alerted to the possible “loss of life and major damage” two days before the fatal explosion.

“Numsa has unearthed evidence of management complicity and flouting of regulations after it commissioned investigation by an independent expert to establish the cause of the furnace six explosion … on February 21.”

Hlangani said consulting engineers warned Assmang that keeping furnace six operational could result in “major explosion and … endanger lives of all personnel working around the furnace”.

The Witness is in possession of a copy of the document, which warns management to “switch out the furnace immediately and at least carry out temporary repairs to allow for safe operation”.

“The union is still investigating … the whereabouts of the minutes of the … meeting that discussed the … report two days before the fatal explosion of the furnace.”

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