Mining firms hope for settlement in silicosis class action

Cape Town – Mining companies facing class action from mine workers who contracted silicosis on South Africa’s gold mines, remain hopeful that there will be an out of court settlement. 

Graham Briggs, former Chief Executive Officer of Harmony Gold and Chairperson of the Mining industry Working Group on Occupational Lung Disease, told journalists on the sidelines of the 2017 Mining Indaba that there’s good collaboration among stakeholders in the industry, labour and government to find a speedy solution. 

“I’m optimistic, although we don’t have a solution on the table yet,” Briggs said. 

In May last year, the South Gauteng High Court ruled in favour of mine workers who intend on launching a silicosis class action against Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti, African Rainbow Minerals, Gold Fields, Sibanye Gold and Harmony Gold. 

READ: Silicosis: Landmark judgment for mine workers 

The case was granted a class action certification which will make it the largest class action ever to be certified in South Africa, allowing hundreds of thousands of gold miners and their families to seek redress against gold mining companies.

The six gold producers have since come together to form the Mining Industry Working Group on Occupational Lung Disease to deal with the problem.

As chairperson of the grouping, Briggs said there’s a problem separate to the class action suit in that the claimants still haven’t received payment from a separate compensation fund that is managed by the Department of Health. 

READ: Gold mining firms granted partial leave to appeal silicosis ruling 

Mining companies pay approximately R8 per shift per worker into the special compensation fund, in which funds to the value of R3.7bn have accumulated. 

“There has been a significant slowdown in the payment to workers from these fund in the last couple of years,” Briggs said. 

He added that a big challenge facing the gold mining companies in their compensation efforts is the fact that the affected miners are not readily traceable. 

The silicosis claims date back from as early as the 1960s and record-keeping and databases have been poor. 

“Only a fraction of the affected people are traceable, so we need those mine workers to come forward,” Briggs said. 

Nationally, the rate of silicosis – a lung disease caused by the inhalation of silica dust prevalent in mines – decreased by 24%.

Briggs said the chances are low nowadays of contracting silicosis, thanks to new technology such as filtration systems and centralised blasting that takes place when the mine is clear of workers. 

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