Former Anglo American miners are bringing a legal case against the company, claiming it did not do enough to protect their health.
The miners were employed at Anglo American’s President Steyn mine between 1960 and 1980 and that they claim they were not given safety equipment.
Four complaints were filed in 2004, with each miner claiming between R500,000 and R3m. Eighteen former employees will lodge similar claims that Anglo did not provide sufficient dust masks or other equipment to prevent the inhalation of silica quartz dust.
Inhalation of the dust causes silicosis, a respiratory disease.
Anglo has denied the allegations. Anglo said in its legal documents that mining operations conducted at the President Steyn Mine “including matters relating to health, safety and occupational diseases, were at all times regulated by the legislative framework, subject to such amendments to it as took place from time to time”.
“Black miners undertook the dustiest of jobs but, unlike white miners, were not provided with on-site showering or change-room facilities until the ’80s. Respiratory protective masks were only issued in the ’80s and then only erratically,” human rights lawyer Richard Meeran is quoted as saying.
“As a result, literally tens of thousands of South African miners are believed to have contracted silicosis, silico-tuberculosis and TB,” he said.
A similar case was brought against AngloGold Ashanti, which used to be an Anglo American subsidiary. The courts decided in AngloGold’s favour in the matter, which was regarded by lawyers as a test case that could have opened the floodgates for ill miners to claim millions of rands from their employers.
Under South African labour laws, companies are protected by the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) from lawsuits by employees disabled at work and legal actions brought by families of employees killed at work.
A government-run fund provides compensation to disabled workers or families of those killed at work. AngloGold Ashanti successfully used the COIDA provisions to defend itself.
“The finding confirms that employees who qualify for benefits in respect of the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act (ODMWA) may not, in addition, lodge civil claims against their employers in respect of their relevant conditions,” AngloGold said in June 2008 when the courts decided in its favour.