Following another explosion at the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) in Somerset West in the Western Cape on Sunday night, the company’s safety culture and protocols came under the spotlight once more and needed to be thoroughly examined.
So said defenceWeb editor Guy Martin.
It was hard to say what the cause of the explosion was, as there was not enough information available at present, but munitions manufacturing and storage were inherently dangerous.
“That said, the fact that RDM has experienced two explosions in three years, as well as an acid leak at its Wellington plant in January 2018,” was worrying, he said.
In a statement, RDM chief executive Jan-Patrick Helmsen said a fire had broken out around 11pm at the facility’s N86 magazine building and an explosion and fireball had lit up the night sky.
Helmsen said the fire was extinguished by its internal fire department and the City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service, “who reacted in line with all of our safety protocols”, and no injuries or casualties were reported.
“The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, however, police are currently on the scene and we are working closely with them.
“A thorough investigation will be conducted to determine the events leading up to the fire. We will share further information as it becomes available to us,” a statement read.
The explosion follows a similar incident in 2018 that led to the department of employment and labour conducting a public inquiry after the lives of eight employees were lost.
The inquiry looked into the structural shortcomings, defective designs as well as unnecessary overtime being put in by employees at times when there were no large orders. It also heard of the necessary risk assessment procedures not being carried out for key plant fittings.
According to the department’s findings, the former site manager and chairperson of the health and safety committee, Lewis Minaar, told the inquiry that at the time of the incident, there was no need for workers to be working overtime.
Martin said munitions factories like RDM’s facility had been built with safety in mind, and “residents are in extremely little danger, as munitions facilities like RDM’s are designed with the worst case scenario in mind, and blast walls and bunkers are built to contain explosions and stop them spreading”.
However, families of the eight employees who had died asked for the company to be closed down.
“I don’t think it is necessary for the RDM factory to be closed. But RDM needs to improve its safety record,” Martin said.