The 2018 explosion claimed the lives of eight employees, leaving several others injured.
SENIOR officials at the N16 plant of Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) in Somerset West where eight employees were killed during an explosion have denied there was pressure in the production of the CBI propellant.
Testifying during the final sitting of the Department of Employment and Labour-appointed inquiry into the events that transpired on September 3, 2018, Louis Minnaar, who was employed as the plant’s head of site at the time, said he “didn’t know details of the order” as he had returned to the site on the day of the explosion resuming his duty as head of site after three months working in Boksburg at another site.
According to Minnaar, the N16 plant was not under pressure for production.
“The plant was not under load at the time and I did not know the details of the specific order,” said Minnaar.
Legal counsel for the families, advocate Winston Erasmus, probed Minnaar why Nico Samuels – one of the fatalities in the explosion – had told another witness that he “was under pressure from Minnaar and (Kishen) Govender (plant manager)” for the CBI product.
Minnaar denied that he had applied pressure for the production of the propellant.
“I had no discussions with them about this at all. I hadn’t spoken to Govender until just two weeks before I got back to site but it did not relate to (CBI production). On the day that I returned to site and after briefing the team on what work had been done in Boksburg and I received briefing back on what was happening at the Somerset West plant, I told Govender that a report needed attention and wanted him to discuss it with me and while he stood in my doorway is when the explosion occurred,” said Minnaar.
Samuels, 41, team leader Stevon Isaacs, 51, operators Mxolisi Sigadla, 40, Bradley Tandy, 19, Jamie Haydricks, 24, Jason Hartzenberg, 22, Triston David, 22, and Thandolwethu Mankayi, 27, were killed in the incident in Somerset West
Another witness, Milan Bohacek employed as the chief financial officer, said he was unaware of any pressure for the CBI propellant being manufactured at the N16 plant.
“I don’t recall being late on an order and don’t know who the client was (that the product was being produced for). We produce or manufacture to order or to keep on stock which is then used for different clients,” said Bohacek.
Probed about why the product was rushed into production while a risk assessment was not in place and could not confirm the quantity of the order, Bohacek said they “were always trying to find balance to meet targets while doing so at minimal risk”.
Testifying virtually, another expert witness Koos Coetzee said they had visited the RDM plant during last week where they found two plants, N7 and N12 to be compliant.
Coetzee said while the bonding wire – which is needed for the installation of the iris mucon valve – was absent, the installation of the new valve was compliant.
The absence of a risk assessment, the replacement of a butterfly valve to an iris mucon valve at the N16 plant and the urgency for production is central to the probe around the explosion.
Since the establishment of the inquiry, 26 witnesses have taken the stand to give evidence before the commission which sat in May and October 2021 respectively.
The department will now compile its report based on the Section 32 inquiry to investigate possible violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and intends to have this completed by June later this year, said inquiry chairperson Mphumzi Dyulete.
Parties are also expected to submit their closing arguments before the report and recommendations are submitted to the department’s chief inspector for consideration.
In October last year, labour federation Cosatu and residents of Macassar and Somerset West, picketed outside RDM where they demanded the suspension of explosive licences and activity at the site while the inquiry was still underway, however, trade union representatives said there has been no feedback on this demand yet.