The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has accused Fortune Steel of flouting health and safety protocols when at least seven workers were injured after a furnace exploded at the plant in Nigel in Ekurhuleni.
Numsa has reportedly called for the company’s operations to be closed until an investigation by the Department of Labour had proved the environment was safe to work in.
Numsa’s Local Deputy Chairperson Timothy Pule told the Mail & Guardian that it is clear that Fortune Steel is “not interested” in health and safety, as the union has been trying to engage with the company since July last year.
The incident occurred on Saturday during the night shift, less than 24 hours after the union marched and protested against the company on Friday, when a closed piece of metal scrap which was deeply embedded in a bale of scrap steel, cause the blast.
Numsa has accused the company of being non-compliant with basic health and safety laws, as well as flouting labour laws.
“One of the workers who was injured in the blast is in critical condition at a hospital in Alberton after he sustained extensive injuries to the head, chest and arms. As is usually the case, the management tried to cover up this incident,” Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, Numsa acting national spokesperson told IOL.
“They refused to call the ambulance and attempted to transport the injured themselves using private vehicles. It was only with the intervention of the local police that workers received medical care provided for by the ambulances. The management had the audacity to try and downplay the accident as a minor workplace issue.”
On Numsa’s accusation that management failed to intervene, Fortune Steel’s Gaurav Bansal told the M&G that, on the night of the incident, “the emergency services were informed, but the staff in the plant did not want to waste any time waiting for the ambulance services and as such decided to take the injured in a personal vehicle”.
Bansal added that there was a representative from the police on the site at the time and he was informed that the injured need to be taken to the hospital.
“Unfortunately we do not have the details of such South African Police Service personal. The vehicle was stopped by another wing of SAPS just around the plant and was instructed not to take the injured to the hospital. The instructions were then duly complied with and the injured were then taken to the hospital in an Ambulance which came some time after,” said Bansal.
Bansal said that, as a remedial measure, the company has isolated all stock of baled scrap material and instructed all suppliers that no further bales would be accepted.