PIETERMARITZBURG - The Assmang manganese company boss was on Monday accused of having “gambled” with workers lives by failing to act when warned that the company boiler was likely to explode.
This came out during a formal inquiry in Pietermaritzburg by the labour department into the massive explosion of a furnace at the Assmang plant on February 24, 2008 which claimed six lives.
Workers' attorney Richard Spoor said Assmang general manager Princess Thwala had ignored warnings from a firm of consultants that the boiler was likely to explode if water leaks were not
The consultants had warned that a “catastrophic accident” would claim many lives, he said.
“You were gambling with the lives of the workers because you ignored the warnings. You ignored the warning from an outside expert,” said Spoor.
African Rainbow Minerals owns a 50% stake in Assmang.
Thwala, who was grilled by Spoor for more than three hours, refused to answer certain questions and she was regularly protected by her company lawyer Willem le Roux who said some questions were “unreasonable”.
Spoor said a firm of consultants had informed Assmang bosses that there was damage in the boiler and that it would increase and result in a major explosion.
According to Thwala, she had been told by Assmang's former operations manager, Robert Burger, that the accident was unlikely to happen. She said that she was satisfied with Burger's steps to mitigate the problem.
Burger died in a car accident in Pietermaritzburg in November 2008.
“You allowed it [the boiler accident] to happen on the basis that it was unlikely it would happen. You took a chance. You gambled with the lives of the workers,” said Spoor.
Thwala said it was not true that she had ignored the warning, saying that there was plan to shut down so that the problem would be sorted out.
She told the inquiry panel that there water leaks reported to the foreman on the day of the accident.
“I can say that there were water leaks reported on that particular shift. What the foreman should have done was to switch the boiler,” said Thwala.
Reading a statement prepared by Burger before his death, Le Roux said the design and the construction of the boiler was safe.
Burger said the furnace was commissioned in 1990 and the company had spent more than R30-million refurbishing it since it was built.
An overhaul of the furnace had taken place in 1995 and that was followed by another one in 1999 at the cost of more than R7-million. Another overhaul had taken place in 2002 and the last one was done in 2005 at a cost of R18,5-million.
The inquiry was attended by relatives of people who died and those who sustained serious injuries during the accident. The inquiry continues.
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