Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Manganese smelter did not insist on masks

A ferromanganese smelter near Durban did not insist its workers wear protective dust masks, even though dust levels were sometimes three times more than national legislative limits, a Labour Department inquiry heard on Thursday.

The inquiry, being held in Cato Ridge near Durban, is investigating 40 alleged cases of manganism that have resulted from workers breathing in fumes containing airborne manganese particles.

Harold Gayze, an occupational hygienist, whose firm Occutech had assessed risk at Assmang’s ferromanganese smelter every two years between 1995 and 2001, was asked if he had ever recorded manganese dust levels three times in excess of the legislative limits.

Some static measurements had far exceeded that, he replied.

Gayze said he had filed reports showing the measurements as well as recommendations on how to achieve a reduction in the dust and limit workers’ exposure to it.

Manganism is acquired by overexposure to airborne manganese and is a disease that affects the sufferer’s central nervous system, leaving them with symptoms very similar to Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Current legislation rules that workers should not be exposed to more than 5mg of manganese dust per cubic metre.

Gayze said that he was aware that dust masks had been issued by the company, but that there appeared to be no insistence that workers wear the masks.

He said he had seen ”a number of people who didn’t wear masks or they [the masks] were being worn incorrectly”.

While exposure limits to the poisonous dust was generally measured over an eight-hour period, ”short term exposure in some cases posed the biggest risk”.

Asked by Richard Spoor, the attorney representing the workers, whether he had taken any short term exposure measurements, Gayze replied: ”We did one or two measurements.”

He said there was no evidence that the company had attempted to do any short-term exposure measurement at the smelter and that he had suggested that Assmang should do so.

”They were not going to budge on doing that monitoring,” he said, adding that quotes he had submitted for monitoring short-term exposure were ”turned down”.

”Many of the things we recommended were repeated, but there was no change,” he said.

The sampling methods in a report before the inquiry did not meet the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety regulations, Gayze said. – Sapa

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

The South African Bone Marrow Registry celebrates 30 years of...

‘It’s not drilling into bones!’: Misconceptions keep donors away, says SABMR, but a match outside of a patient’s family is a needle in a haystack

R500-million Covid-19 Gauteng hospital contract was irregularly awarded — SIU

The bank accounts of Pro Service Consulting and Thenga Holdings have been frozen

More top stories

With its industrial base decimated, SA’s economy needs real change...

Speaking at a book launch on Tuesday, the finance minister said a focus on manufacturing is critical to stem the country’s deepening unemployment crisis

Defence team cagey about Zuma’s health after state advised he...

The former president was absent from court, but his counsel argued that health matters be left aside, so as to hear his case for the removal of Billy Downer

The South African Bone Marrow Registry celebrates 30 years of...

‘It’s not drilling into bones!’: Misconceptions keep donors away, says SABMR, but a match outside of a patient’s family is a needle in a haystack

New clean fuel standards could be the end of refineries...

In the absence of mechanisms to recoup investment into cleaner fuels, refineries may be faced with tough decisions

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…