Govt orders high-level probe into Sasol blast

28th January 2005

South African Minister of Labour Membathisi Mdladlana has ordered a high-level investigation into the cause of a gas explosion at the Natref Sasol plant, in Sasolburg, on Wednesday night.

The blast left 14 workers injured.

The incident occurred during a shutdown, after a leak had been detected.

It is suspected that a seal on one of the pumps detached itself, leading to a hydrofluoric-gas cloud that ignited. At this stage it is not known what caused the ignition.

The plant produces crude oil and jointly owned by Sasol and French oil giant Total “The 14 injured workers inhaled hydrofluoric gas and were taken to hospital. Five stayed overnight and four were released this morning. One worker remained in hospital for observation,” the Department of Labour said in a statement.

Mdladlana issued a stern warning to Sasol following the accident, saying that his department is concerned with the recurrence of such incidents at the company's plants. This is the second explosion at the same Sasol plant in less than four months.

“My Department is concerned with the pattern of such incidents at Sasol and we are determined to once again go out in full force in 2005 to ensure compliance with occupational health and safety regulations in workplaces around the country,” he commented.

Meanwhile, the Solidarity trade union said it would be part of an internal investigation into the blast, following an emergency meeting with Sasol.

According to Solidarity spokesperson Dirk Hermann, it was also agreed that the union would meet with the management of Sasol within one week “to address the predilection for accidents that has become apparent at Sasol during the past year, and also to find a solution to this problem”.

“We are extremely concerned about the current accident trend at Sasol,” Hermann said.

There have been five accidents at Sasol plants since June 2004, the union pointed out.

In September last year, ten people were killed and 369 injured in an explosion at the company's ethylene plant in Secunda, Mpumalanga.

In June, a contractor was killed and eight people were injured when a tank exploded at the Phenosolvan plant, also in Secunda.

Shortly thereafter, on July 1, a contractor was killed in a gas explosion at Sasol's Middelbult coal-mine.

On November 30, two people were killed in a fire at the Natref plant in Sasolburg. Several people inhaled harmful gas during this accident.