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Ill workers’ R80m suit against Sasol ‘a warning for the entire coal mining’

Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor says that the civil suit against Sasol filed last week for a total of R80 million damages relating to lung diseases should serve as a warning for the entire coal mining industry.  

Spoor is leading the case of 22 current and former miners who worked at Sasol coal mines at sites in Mpumalanga.  He filed an action in the South Gauteng High Court seeking damages after the miners were allegedly exposed to coal dust and contracted lung diseases.  Coal dust can cause lung diseases, including coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  The value of the plaintiffs’ claims range from R800,000 to R10m and the amounts are made up of loss of earnings, medical costs, pain and suffering and loss of amenities of life.

 "Our target is not winning cases, our target is securing fair compensation for mine workers, whether they are our clients or not our clients.  The objective is a social objective," Spoor stated.  His view is that there has been no accountability for the last 100 years and that workers' lives and their health “have been really very cheap.”  

Spoor said holding mining giants accountable would provide an incentive for them to create safe and healthy working environments for workers.  He added that he did not believe that other coal producers, including Total, Exxaro and BHP Billiton were in a better situation than Sasol.  

"I have no doubt at all that the conditions of these other mine companies are not much better than Sasol.  There is nothing to suggest that Sasol is any worse or any better than these other companies," he said.  Sasol spokesperson Alex Anderson said on Sunday that the group needed time to study the law suit documents.  He pointed out that Sasol took the protection of the health and safety of workers very seriously.