Sasol South Africa Coal Miners Seek Damages Over Lung Diseases

Coal miners in South Africa who worked at a unit of Sasol Ltd. and contracted lung diseases filed a suit seeking damages from the company, according to their lawyer.

The 22 current and former workers contracted illnesses “as a result of their employment” at the fuel manufacturer’s South African mines where they were exposed to coal dust, Richard Spoor, a Johannesburg-based attorney, said in an e-mailed statement. He submitted the civil action at the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday.

Sasol is “currently assessing the law suit,” spokesman Alex Anderson said in an e-mailed reply to questions on Friday. “While we cannot provide further comment as the legal process is under way, Sasol Mining takes the protection of the health and safety of our employees and the employees of service providers very seriously.”

The miners worked at sites near Secunda in Mpumalanga province, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) east of Johannesburg, for different durations between 1971 and now, Spoor said in the statement. Coal dust can cause lung diseases including coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, progressive massive fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he said.

The miners “allege that Sasol Mining failed to provide and maintain a working environment in its mines that was safe and without risk to the health of its employees and that it failed to comply with the statutory and common law duties,” according to the statement. Personal protective equipment wasn’t provided and employees weren’t made aware of the danger of coal dust, according to the statement.

“Sasol Mining continuously adheres to the Mine Health and Safety Act, as well as all other applicable legislation,” Anderson said. “We remain committed to promoting a healthy workforce through a proactive and strategic approach to occupational health.”

Spoor won a 490 million-rand ($41 million) settlement from Gencor Ltd. in 2003 after representing South African workers at the company’s asbestos mines. The country’s highest court in March 2011 cleared the way for him to seek damages from gold companies by ruling that former miner Thembekile Mankayi could pursue a 2.7 million-rand claim against AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., a company whose predecessor was formed in 1997 when Anglo American Plc merged its gold mines.

The Mankayi ruling has also made the Sasol litigation possible, Spoor said. More coal-mining claims may be made, he said.

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