Union and steel producer at war after three employees die in explosion

Three workers were buried under rubble at ArcelorMittal's plant in Vanderbijlpark.
Three workers were buried under rubble at ArcelorMittal's plant in Vanderbijlpark.
Image: SUPPLIED: NUMSA

A war of words has erupted between ArcelorMittal SA (Amsa) and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) over the death of three union members in an explosion at the steel producer's plant in Vanderbijlpark.

Amsa described a media statement by the union as not being helpful to anyone at this time, especially the grieving families and colleagues of the men who were buried under rubble on Wednesday.

Numsa’s Sedibeng regional secretary, Kabelo Ramokhathali, said employees voluntarily worked throughout the night to ensure the bodies were recovered.

“Had it not been for workers volunteering to remove the fallen rock, we would probably still be searching for them even now,” he said.

“There is no specialised rescue team, and this is a requirement for a company the size of Amsa which employs over 2,500 employees, excluding contractors.”

The union said the surviving buildings are structurally not sound and accused ArcelorMittal management of negligence.

ArcelorMittal said in a statement that “a portion of a 90m stack at one of the operation’s coke batteries failed and fell onto the coke battery control room in which the three employees were working”.

Company spokesperson Tami Didiza said internal qualified, experienced and specialised emergency services were on site immediately and led the search and rescue operation, working throughout the day and into the night until the bodies had been recovered.

“Contrary to the claims by Numsa, Amsa immediately informed all the relevant authorities as required in situations such as these and accommodated them on site to monitor the search and rescue activities,” Didiza said.

“We are also co-operating with the authorities in their inquiries to ensure that we fully understand the cause of the incident so that we can avoid something like this happening in the future.

“When management knew that the three employees were deceased, the priority was to be considerate and sensitive to the families, while being transparent with the many stakeholders who needed to know the outcome of the search and rescue efforts.”

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