Govt blasts Sasol

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Govt blasts Sasol

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Govt blasts Sasol - June 7, 2006

By Eduan Roos

Johannesburg - The government warned that its patience is running out with employers "who put profit ahead of the lives of employees" after an explosion at the petrochemicals giant Sasol.

Two contractors have been seriously injured and 17 others have received medical attention when a tanker exploded at Sasol's Sasolburg plant on Tuesday.

It is the sixth serious explosion at a Sasol plant since July 2004.

Ten people were killed and more than 300 injured when an ethylene pipeline in Secunda exploded in September 2004.

Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana warned Sasol in January last year "to get its house in order" and "to stop hiding behind the fact that the company worked with dangerous chemicals" after 17 people inhaled hydro-fluorine when a gas pipe exploded during maintenance work in Sasolburg.

Felt earth moved

The minister's spokesperson, Mokgadi Pela, said that the department was running out of patience with employers who put profit ahead of the lives of employees.

Residents as far away as 5km from the plant felt the earth move when the tanker exploded about 09:20.

One resident told Beeld, sister publication of Fin24, "a huge pall of smoke rose up into the air and all the roads at the plant were immediately closed off".

Nursery schools close to the plant were warned after the explosion to keep the toddlers inside because it was feared that the gas fumes could burn them.

Sasol spokesperson Andre Botha said the explosion took place while contractors were removing chemicals from the Venco Park plant next to Sasol's manufacturing area.

Tanker exploded

Botha said: "This plant was previously used by an independent contractor who left the chemicals there. Efforts had been unsuccessful to get that contractor to remove the chemicals and that's why we used these contractors."

He said the chemicals were being pumped into a tanker when it exploded.

"Emergency personnel were on the scene within minutes and some of the injured were sent to the medical aid station.

"All work at the plant was stopped immediately. Officials of the department of labour have already visited the area. A formal investigation would take place to establish the cause of the explosion, but production continued."

A few safety helmets were found next to the damaged tanker when Beeld visited the area.

'It was chaos'

Solidarity spokesperson Jahni Cowley said 19 people were treated for burns and gas inhalation at Sasol's medical aid station.

"Two of them were seriously injured. One has second- and third-degree burns and the other a leg fracture. They are being treated in Johannesburg hospitals."

Cowley said despite a safety charter implemented by both the union and Sasol last year, the lives of people "were still in danger daily".

A spokesperson for the medical aid station told Beeld that 19 people working in the tanker area were treated after the explosion.

The spokesperson, asked not to be named, said: "It was chaos. They said the back of the tanker exploded without any warning. They were very traumatised."

SOURCE: ... 24_1946873
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