Six workers rushed to hospital after another Assmang explosion

2008-09-10 00:00

At least six employees were taken to hospital to be treated for smoke and dust inhalation following another explosion at Assmang, the controversial Cato Ridge ferro-manganese smelter, yesterday afternoon.

It was the third accident at the plant in the last nine months. Six workers were killed in blasts in December 2007 and February 2008.

Yesterday’s incident, the result of the explosion inside furnace five, happened at about 2 pm.

The company’s senior general manager, Princess Twala, said the explosion happened when a malfunctioning electrode caused a chemical paste to run into the furnace, instead of dripping slowly to boost the heat. The burning paste released volatile material, which ignited and threw off large volumes of smoke and dust.

Twala said the furnace itself did not explode.

“Just imagine how hot the furnace is. When something cold drops into the furnace, there is definitely going to be smoke,” said Twala.

Of the six workers rushed to MediClinic and St Anne’s hospitals in Pietermaritzburg, three were released before 6 pm. Twala said work resumed later at other non-affected furnaces.

Bheki Ngubane from Shongweni said his brother Ayanda Ngubane were among those affected. He said his family panicked after receiving a call informing them about the accident.

“Right now, we are busy making calls to find out which hospital [Ayanda] is in. I’m still shaken and my mother [61] just cried. We are not sure of his condition,” Bheki told The Witness at about 6.30 pm.

Workers were seen leaving the company early as a result of the incident. They said they had heard a huge explosion. “We were then instructed to stop the work and run to an open area. Later we were told to go home early,” said a worker.

When The Witness arrived at the plant, Durban fire engines were arriving and smoke could be seen coming out of the furnace.

At the main gate, security guards told The Witness team that they had been given strict instructions not to allow journalists anywhere near.

National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa organiser Mbuso Ngubane said the fact that the accident happened means safety has not improved at the plant.

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