Nearly half a million current and former miners in South Africa are seeking damages from gold mining companies after contracting lung diseases.
The decision for the multimillion dollar class action suit, handed by South Africa’s High Court, enables workers to sue 30 companies for contracting diseases such as tuberculosis and silicosis, which are often fatal.
The case was brought by nearly 60 former miners, and could involve thousands of elderly men from South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Malawi.
Some of the world’s largest producers of bullion were defendants in the case including AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, African Rainbow Minerals, and Sibanye Gold – all of these companies joining together to create the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) Working Group to tackle such problems, however, there is no known cure for silicosis.
Mthobeli Gangatha, a former gold mine worker who contracted silicosis said, “As miners we were not helped and protected even though our employers knew that we were going to get sick. I am happy and relieved that the court’s decision is in our favour.”
Judge Phineas Mojapelo said workers who died from the diseases could also be included in the suits, with their families receiving the damages, in a report from Business Day. He added that each company should separately be held liable for any damages.
Risk consultancy firm Verisk Maplecroft Africa analyst Ruth Bookbinder, said the decision was a significant blow to South Africa’s struggling mining industry.
“The mining sector accounts for the vast majority of strikes in South Africa and prospective job cuts significantly raise the likelihood of disruptive and costly labour action,” she said.
“With this most recent blow any hope of a recovery in the near future if fading.”
The suit was first filed in 2012 and alleges the companies named knew of the dangers silica dust had for miners for more than 100 years. It identified 12 examples of neglect which included ignoring or failing to execute nearly every step in legislation aimed to protect miners from silica dust.
Australia is also facing growing issues relating to miner’s lung health.
A new case of black lung was identified earlier this month in a 55 year old Queensland coal miner, taking the current toll to seven.
The report blamed poor regulation in the mining industry for the disease and recommended removing workers from unsafe conditions until a national standard was implemented as well as generating a national fund to give lifetime financial support for workers affected by the disease.
In January national resources and mines minister Anthony Lynham launched a five point plan to determine black black lung in miners, including a review into current screening systems for workers, and improving the collation of information to ensure potential cases are not missed.