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South African goldminers litigation against Anglo American

Test cases underway on behalf of miners suffering from silicosis

Alpheos Blom

18 November 2009

Leigh Day & Co is colloborating with the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa, in running a series of test cases against the mining company Anglo American South Africa ("AASA"), a subsidiary of UK company Anglo American Corporation. Until 1998, AASA was the head office parent company of the Anglo group, responsible for providing advice to the gold mines on technical and medical issues as well as other aspects.

The litigation started in the Johannesburg High Court in August 2004 but was delayed for almost two years due to procedural objections raised by Anglo. The litigation is now well advanced, with Anglo having disclosed hundreds of thousands of pages of documents. The trial is expected to take place in the later part of 2010. The case has received funding from Legal Aid South Africa.

Gold mining, silicosis and black miners

A series of major studies on black South African gold miners have found a high rate of silicosis of about 25% in former long-service gold miners. Experts estimate the number of silicosis victims to be in the tens of thousands. Silicosis is a lung disease caused by intense and lengthy exposure of silica-containing dust. The disease may arise up to 30 years after dust exposure. Many miners only contract the disease years after they have left the mines and returned home. Silicosis sufferers have a significantly increased risk of TB and lung cancer.

Gold mining in South Africa has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of cases of silicosis over the last hundred years, even though the adverse health effects of silica were known more than 100 years ago.

In order to protect workers against silicosis and TB, dust prevention and protection is crucial. Yet according to the 1994 Leon Commission of enquiry, dust levels on the gold mines had not improved for 50 years.

Test cases

The 24 claimants in the litigation were employed at an Anglo-owned mine in the Free State from the 1970s to 1998. They say that they were not issued with facemasks or any other protection against the constant exposure to silica dust. In contrast with white miners, black miners had no access to onsite showers and changing rooms where dust could be removed from their bodies. Black miners who contracted silicosis have a high, lifelong risk of contracting TB. This risk continues after they leave employment and return to their communities, where TB is frequently undiagosed and untreated. The claimants are seeking compensation for silicosis, silico-tuberculosis, lost earnings and the cost of receiving regular medical monitoring for TB.

“a huge river of disease is flowing out of the South African goldmines” Professor Tony Davies, an eminent clinical expert on occupational disease

The claim against Anglo American South Africa Ltd alleges that it negligently advised the mines in relation to dust protection of miners.

Richard Meeran, the Leigh Day partner who is coordinating the case with the Legal Resources Centre, said:

“As far as ex-miners are concerned, the industry appears to have just washed it's hands of them. Once they’ve left the mines, the industry seems to have taken the view that they are no longer its responsibility, even though their ongoing health risks are the direct result of their exposure to dust on the mines”.

For more information please contact Richard Meeran on 020 7650 1200.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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