Silicosis settlement imminent

Cape Town - A settlement for miners suffering from silicosis will be a better option than litigation, said Graham Briggs, convenor of the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group.

Briggs was speaking at a media briefing at the 2018 African Mining Indaba on Wednesday, following his address which dealt with the progress made in reaching solutions for occupational lung disease in the gold sector.

The settlement will likely be finalised within the next few months, Briggs said.

Briggs used to be the CEO of Harmony Gold. He was involved in one of the programmes of the Chamber of Mines that dealt with occupational health and safety, before the working group was established to find sustainable solutions for silicosis.

Silicosis is an occupational lung disease, contracted from inhaling silica dust and makes breathing difficult.

Briggs explained that various parties came together to discuss and understand the extent of the damage of the disease. These parties include the working group, which represents mining companies African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye-Stillwater. Other parties include government departments of health, labour and mineral resources, as well as claimants, civil society which includes labour unions and the Chamber and its members.

“The working group managed to focus on looking at the issue and the solution to the issue.” Finding a solution meant that compromises had to be made.

A compromise was reached, which was in fact a fair solution, this being the settlement, Briggs explained.

The parties had then approached the courts in January 2017 to postpone a court case which was to be heard between March 19 and 23, after they agreed to consider a settlement, Fin24 previously reported.

“The postponement goes on the back of various companies putting in financial provision of a total of R5bn. That is a good indicator that we are close to a settlement,” he said.

Briggs explained that the settlement is a better option than litigation, as the later would take a long time. “That will be to the detriment of claimants and them getting their compensation,” he said.

The compromise or the settlement will “be a great benefit” to the claimants, who will get their payments much quicker, he explained.

This settlement is a top-up to the existing compensation system. There is currently R3.5bn in the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases (MBOD) Fund. But the top-up is over and above this. Briggs could not give more information on the top-up as the settlement has not yet been reached.

The detailed settlement is expected to be finalised within a few months, and then it has to be ratified by the courts, he explained.

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