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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

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