Six dead, more than 100 injured in Sasol explosion

Nine people were still not accounted for by Wednesday afternoon after a gas explosion that claimed six lives at Sasol’s Secunda plant, police said.

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Superintendent Izak van Zyl said 42 people had so far been hospitalised.

A spokesperson for the petrochemical company, Johann van Rheede, told reporters on the scene that more than 100 people were injured in the blast in Sasol’s ethylene plant. About 500 people were working at the plant when the explosion occurred at 9.40am.

Ben Otto, manager of the Highveld MediClinic in Trichardt near Secunda, said one patient died from serious burn wounds on arrival at the hospital, bringing the death toll to six.

Twenty patients were still in the hospital with injuries ranging from serious to very serious. Two had been taken to theatre for fractures.

Twenty-three patients were treated and discharged. Otto said the hospital was on full alert by the time the first patient arrived, having been alerted by Sasol.

Van Rheede said the company was trying to determine through a process of elimination exactly how many people were missing.

The plant was undergoing planned maintenance and there were several contractors in it when the blast occurred.

“Indications are that the incident was caused when a gas cloud, due to a gas leak, ignited,” Van Rheede said.

The fire was extinguished within minutes and the cloud brought under control after “a quick and effective emergency response”, he said.

The plant is part of Sasol’s polymers chemical production division. There are normally 6 000 permanent employees and 6 000 contractors on the whole site, spread over four shifts a day.

Sasol Polymers managing director Terry Bates said the ethylene plant produces chemicals, and fuel production will not be affected.

The explosion will be investigated by the Department of Labour, the police and Sasol.

The extent of the damage still has to be assessed.

The names of the dead will be released once their families have been informed.

Trade union Solidarity said it has requested that Minister of Labour Membathisi Mdladlana appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate the blast.

The union’s occupational safety expert, Chris Pienaar, said the blast was the most recent in a series of explosions involving Sasol.

He said two Sasol employees had died in June and July in explosions.

“Sasol will have to do something urgently to break this cycle [of explosions]. The problem with Sasol is that too few workers are doing too much work,” Pienaar said in a statement.

“There is also insufficient supervision on the production line. Time for maintenance of the refinery has been reduced and Solidarity does not find this acceptable.”—Sapa

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