3 ArcelorMittal employees missing after a 90m stack collapses at Vanderbijlpark plant

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  • Three ArcelorMittal employees are missing after a 90m stack collapsed at a coke battery in Vanderbijlpark.
  • The company's stock fell as much as 9% following the announcement of the incident.
  • Trade union Numsa has voiced concern over the incident, including the missing workers.

UPDATE | ArcelorMittal accident: 3 bodies found as unions urge company to widen scope of probe

A search has been launched for three employees after a 90m stack collapsed at an ArcelorMittal coke battery in Vanderbijlpark.

The company said on Wednesday the full extend of the damage to the battery had not yet been determined, stating that it will be out for repairs.

"A portion of a 90m stack at one of the operation's coke batteries failed in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, and fell on to the coke battery control room in which the three employees were working.

"The cause of the incident is not known at this stage, but the company has launched a full investigation."

The workers were still not accounted for by Wednesday afternoon, with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) accusing the company of not doing enough to conduct the search. They claim that firm had initially refused to seek help from external rescue operators, saying it had enough resources. 

The union stated that an explosion took place at around 02:00 and that the three workers were still trapped under the rubble.

"Emergency services are on the scene and is currently trying to find a way to extract them from the building safely, without setting off another explosion," the union said.

Possible shut-downs

ArcelorMittal SA stocks fell nearly 9% on Wednesday following an incident. The steel maker's share price had opened at R2.92 on the JSE, before shedding 8.9% in after-lunch trade after the announcement of the workplace incident.

By afternoon, its stock had retreated to R2.77.

The Vanderbijlpark Works is the largest supplier of flat-steel products in sub-Saharan Africa, where raw materials such as iron ore, coke and dolomite are charged to blast furnaces where and converted to liquid iron.

Market commentator Simon Brown attributed the sell-off seen in intraday trade in ArcelorMittal stocks to the incident, as well as the possibility of shut-downs due to damage repairs to the structure.

In December, ArcelorMittal resolved to restart it Vanderbijlpark plant, weeks ahead of a planned restart due to a pick up in steel demand.  The company had shut down the plant in the middle of 2020 due to a drop in demand, as a result of Covid-19. However, an unexpected pick-up in demand, following the easing of lockdown regulation helped kickstart demand, leading the company to restart its furnaces.

Trade Union Solidarity claimed that the incident had claimed the life of one employee, while the other two employees were still missing. The fatality claim could not be confirmed by the company.

"This is the third incident of its kind at ArcelorMittal South Africa's Vanderbijlpark plant during the past 12 months," said Willie Venter, deputy general secretary for the Metal and Engineering sector at Solidarity.

"The union said the latest occurrence "casts suspicion on the integrity of the buildings and structures of this aged plant".

It urged the company not to limit its investigation to this particular incident but other similar events that have taken place at its operations.

* This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

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