Ministerial briefing notes for the Minister of Labour, MN Oliphant MP, on Paarl Print and Assmang incident
30 Apr 2011
On 24 February 2008, at a company called Assmang Limited, at Cato Ridge, at approximately 16h30 a huge explosion occurred at a furnace during normal operation of the furnace. This explosion led to the death of six people with three person sustaining serious injuries.
Also on 17 April 2009 at approximately 07h50, a fire was seen to emanate from within the cafeteria at Paarl Print (Pty) Ltd, Paarl. Approximately 90% of the building was destroyed in the fire. As a result of this fire, thirteen (13) workers died and 10 workers were seriously injured.
Based on evidence collected the Department of Labour decided to institute a formal inquiry into both incidents. An inquiry in terms of Section 32 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act was held. The reports that I will be handing over to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) are a culmination of the work that the Department of Labour has done to put closure to the trauma that has been caused by both incidents to the families of the deceased workers.
Ladies and gentleman, these two incidents generated quite a lot of media and public interests. It is for that reason that I have decided to publicly handover these reports to the office of the National Public Prosecution for them to make a decision on whether to prosecute or not. They will make that decision based on amongst other things, the strength of our report.
The office of the Director for Public Prosecution plays a vital role in the completion of our enforcement process. As you all know that our department does not have prosecutorial powers, we rely heavily on the capacity of the Prosecuting Authority to take our matters to finality. We would like to impress upon the NPA office to speedily make a decision not only on these two cases but on all cases referred to them by our office. The time taken to conclude these cases make people to cast doubt on our ability to enforce the law.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am handing over these reports on the eve of the Workers Day. It saddens my heart to know that in our country, workers diligently go to work only to be maimed. Workers go to work only to contract occupational diseases. Workers go to work only to get seriously injured. Definitely we need to do something about this. Workers cannot continue to die at our workplaces.
As the Department of Labour, we have a huge responsibility to ensure that when workers go to work, they comeback home unscathed. Equally so, the unions and the employers have a huge responsibility of ensuring that the law is complied with. If we regard workers as the most important assets, let’s preserve them for the benefit of our companies and the country.
The New Growth Path for our country envisaged a sustained economic growth over a period of time. The New Growth Path realised the fact that economic growth is only possible if there is adequate improvement in production levels. Improvement in production levels require that workers must be at their workplaces all the time. When a worker is away from work due to an injury, or occupational disease that absence, has a negative effect on production levels.
It is worse when a worker dies due to a failure by an employer to comply with the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Such a death becomes a loss not only to the employer concerned, but to the family of that worker and the community from which he or she comes from. As a country we also loose the skill possessed by that worker.
In 2009/10, the Compensation Fund and Federated Employers Mutual Association paid out about R2 286 410 189. These were claims for injuries that occurred at various workplaces. The magnitude of this social and economic cost provides a clear obligation to renew and redouble our efforts to improve workplace health and safety.
As South Africans, we need to put a concerted effort to make sure that our workplaces are healthy and safe. As social partners we need to make sure that we give effect to the commitments that we made when we signed the Occupational Health and Safety Accord six years ago. The handing over of these reports to the NPA is a grim reminder of how all of us have failed to leave up to the pledges that we made during the signing ceremony of the Occupational Health and Safety Accord. Let today be a day when we rededicate ourselves so that we can achieve a goal of “Zero Harm" at our workplaces.
Lastly, as we handover these reports, we remember the lives of the 19 workers that perished when the two incidents occurred. We also remember those that got injured. Our prayers are with the families that lost their loved ones. We promise those families that justice will be done.
Source: Department of Labour
Issued by: Department of Labour
30 Apr 2011
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