NATREF and Secunda explosion: briefing by SASOL and Department of Minerals and Energy

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Employment and Labour

22 February 2005
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

22 February 2005

Chairperson: Ms O Kasienyane (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Sasol Safety: PowerPoint presentation
Sasol and its Safety Relationship with Contractors and the Unions: PowerPoint presentation
Natref PowerPoint presentation
Department memorandum on Occupational Health and Safety Act 1993: Sasol incidents
Summary for Committee: Occupational Health and Safety Act

Members were briefed by Sasol about the Natref and Secunda accidents. There had been explosions at both plants last year, and Members were briefed about steps taken to improve the situation. The Department of Labour also presented a memorandum on the progress regarding the incidents. It had also prepared a document on the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Members raised concerns about the company’s safety measures and staff training. The issue of contractors and sub-contractors was also of great concern.


Sasol briefing
Sasol’s Group General Manager: Safety, Health and Environment, Dr Mike Rose, said Sasol expressed its sincerest concern and regret relating to the incidents, and sympathised with those affected. Sasol was aware that the incidents had impacted on people. A report would be made available in April.

The highlights of the briefing were:


·        Sasol deeply regretted the accidents that led to injuries and fatalities. They made the company re-evaluate and refocus its safety efforts.

·        A safety culture formed part of the group’s values. Safety guidelines and policies applied to all employees and contractors, all safety procedures were written down and were benchmarked against international standards.

·        Overall, Sasol had a very good safety record. Since 2001, substantial decreases had been reported in injuries, lost work day cases and the number of explosions. In comparison to the chemical industry in the United States of America, Sasol had a very low annual fatality rate of 12 per 100 000 workers, while the rate in the US was 31 deaths per 100 000 workers.

·        The spate of accidents in 2004 led the company to set additional safety objectives, improved hazard identification, conducting a behavioural safety study and commissioned the US-based consultancy DuPont to conduct a thorough review of its safety procedures. The DuPont review would be concluded by April 2005

·        Sasol aimed to achieve a zero-fatality rate and would work with organised labour to improve operating conditions at all its plants

·        The cause of the fuel spill explosion at NATREF could be attributed to a faulty valve on the loading tanker. The tanker belonged to a third party and Sasol had instituted additional checks on third party tankers to ensure they were in safe, operating condition. Those that were found not to be safe, were not allowed access to the fuel loading site. Sasol had also installed new hardware to ensure overfill protection. As a corrective measure, the Department had issued prohibition notices, which included the non-allowance of flood loading. The supervision at the dispatch area had been increased.

·        The gas explosion at NATREF’s Hydrofluoric Acid Alkylation Plant had been caused by a mechanical change to a pump housing that was made over 20 years ago.

·        Sasol spent about R137 million per annum on safety training with more than 1000 contractors trained during the past year for shutdown procedures. Safety training permits and certificates were valid for one year only and was the same for employees and contractors. These workers would not be allowed on-site if their permits had expired. Additional training was provided to contractors before shutdown procedures commenced.

·        All Sasol’s employees were entitled to death and disability benefits funded by the company, while contractors were covered under the workmen’s compensation legislation. The company insisted that all contractors had to have indemnity and liability insurance before they were awarded work contracts.

·        There was generally good co-operation between Sasol management and organised labour. Elected safety representatives and shop stewards played an active role, the unions were given access to accident scenes and actively participated in accident investigations.

Department briefing

The Department’s Chief Inspector, Mr J Naidoo, presented a report on the progress regarding the incidents at Sasol. The Department made use of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to do a technical and scientific investigation.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act was also briefly discussed. It stipulated the duties of the employer and employee. One of the OHS tools was routine inspections.

Some of the challenges faced by the Act included that there were more generalists and a few specialists within the inspection team. It had been difficult to retain and attract specialists as they were in demand in the market place. The Act also provided for the approval of inspection authorities to enhance self-regulation at the workplace.

The Chairperson commented that Sasol’s presentation did not include the issue of air pollution. She asked if there had been any study on this issue.

Mr R Henderson (DA) asked why the chief inspector had over-ruled the presiding officer’s decision to prohibit the SAPS from cross-examining witnesses about the NATREF accident,

Mr Henderson (DA) asked if it was true that the company’s legal representatives had appealed to the Chief Inspector to stop cross-examination of witnesses during the enquiry into the September 2004 accident at the Polymers Ethylene Plant. He also asked why the police had not been allowed to interview witnesses at the Sasol incident. He asked if there was any transparency.

A Sasol legal advisor pointed out that the legal representatives of certain Sasol employees had objected to being cross-examined by the SA Police Services during the enquiry as they felt this infringed their right to silence and may have led to self-incriminating testimony. The company had not represented these employees.

Ms N Ngcengwane (ANC) asked about the life span of the machinery at Sasol’s chemical operations (on the tanks) and if the training of contractors included training for sub-contractors. She also asked if training of safety representatives included trade union safety representatives, and how the company ensured that contractors adhered to safety procedures.

Mr Volkswyn said that during shutdowns, the equipment would be inspected and replaced if not compliant with the agreed industry standards. Inspection methods included X-rays to measure the thickness of pipes, as well as an ongoing maintenance programme. Some of Sasol’s equipment was over 30 years old, but that compared well to international companies where equipment of over 50 years of age was found. Sasol provided for equipment replacement in its budget, he added.

Mr Ernst said no differentiation was made in training for employees and contractors, but sub-contractors were trained by their employers and not by Sasol itself. Safety representatives were trained to the same standard as any other employee. Organised labour also provided additional safety training to elected representatives.

Mr Charl Buys added that Sasol’s Maintenance division monitored and inspected continuously during shutdown procedures to ensure adherence to safety procedures. If the Production division was not satisfied that the correct procedures were being followed, the Maintenance division was instructed to take corrective action.

Mr J Swarts, Group Training Manager, added that the training modules were the same for everybody. There was a need to look at the role of safety representatives. During shutdowns, workers moved from company to company. A team of experts would be sent out for the training of hired workers. These workers would be interviewed extensively and those that did not comply with the requirements would be trained to the required standard.

Mr Maduna (ANC) asked if Sasol provided safety training to truck drivers using its fuel loading facilities and whether the company placed profits before safety by cutting corners during shutdown procedures.

Dr Rose said the time lost on shutdowns was not considered as lost profit as safety came first. The company did not cut corners to get production going earlier than planned in advance.

Mr Volkwyn responded that drivers were trained fully in loading procedures. The company monitored compliance with these procedures by close supervision. In cases of non-compliance, the driver was removed from the site and would only be allowed back if his employers could show that corrective and / or disciplinary action had been taken. NATREF also used a system of driver identification to ensure that only certified drivers entered its facilities. Drivers were required not to carry a cell phone when driving.

Mr G Anthony (ANC) commented that the graphs did not show any consistency in curbing explosions. There were still many concerns raised by the trade unions that needed to be addressed by the company in terms of safety and health.

The Chairperson asked how drivers had been identified.

Mr Volkwyn responded that there were about 700 drivers from different transport companies. They were identified through fingerprints and there were computerised files of drivers.

Mr S Rasmeni (ANC) commented that he hoped that inspections would be done more frequently, especially in areas like the Free State, where attention to these matters seemed lacking.

Mr Mzondi asked when the first report would be made available and that he was hoping for another briefing by a certain Mr Mothiba from the Department. Mr R Henderson (DA) asked why it took the Department so long to give a postmortem report.

Labour Department Chief Inspector, Mr J Naidoo responded that there had been outstanding cases but they had now been completed. Currently there were 4000 incidents to be investigated, including the Sasol incidents. The Department would get outside people to deal with some of the technical investigations, and that could take a fair amount of time.

The chairperson concluded by saying that this meeting was part of an on-going effort by the committee to consult all stakeholders in the chemicals industry to achieve better safety conditions. She added that the industry could not work in isolation and that it had to be open and transparent at all times. She welcomed the corrective steps taken by Sasol management, but cautioned against future complacency. Members would make follow-ups as there was not enough time to interrogate the Department.

The meeting was adjourned.


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