SWAKOPMUND - Swakopmund resident Sam Imene says more intensive safety training should be made mandatory for all people working at mines – including employees of sub-contractors.
Imene’s appeal comes after his face was severely burned and disfigured by sulphuric acid a day after he started working at Rössing Uranium mine for Erongo Industries and Service Supplies, a contractor that transports acidic consignments for Husab mine.
With a partially disfigured face and physiological trauma, Imene feels that he was not given enough training, especially considering the fact that on his second day at the site he already had to work with hazardous substances.
A very emotional Imene told New Era that a fellow employee in May last year prematurely opened a valve of an acid tank, resulting in acid spilling on him while busy securing a pipe to the acid tank.
“I felt something dripping but could not see clearly and lifted the protective cover off my face, not knowing that the valve was open. That’s when I felt my face burning and I fell from the tanker to the ground,” he said.
Since then, Imene says, his life has been a living hell as he cannot cope with the trauma of the accident and suffers from severe depression.
He has also not been employed since then as he had to undergo a range of corrective surgeries. Imene explained that his wife has become the main breadwinner for their son and family as a result of his sad incident.
A concerned Imene also told New Era that his face at one stage started to rot as his former employers allegedly told him that they could not pay for another operation.
He also feels that the company could have done more for him and his family, as their lives were altered forever.
In an interview on Wednesday, Erongo Industries and Supply Services CEO Johan Steenkamp described Imene’s accident as very unfortunate.
Steenkamp said Imene received an induction and training specifically on acid loading and offloading a day before he handled the actual acid.
“He was teamed up with an experienced employee and according to the incident report, the accident was caused by a human error, as the valve was opened prematurely,” he said.
Steenkamp also showed New Era medical records and bills amounting to more than N$300 000 which the company had already spent on Imene, adding that they will help him until he fully recovers both physically and emotionally.
“What happened was tragic and we will stand by him to recover. He still got a job with us once he is fully recovered. We are in constant contact with him and if he feels that we don’t do enough he should just come in like he normally does. He is part of us now,” he explained.
Rössing Uranium managing director Richard Storie also said that Rössing assisted the contractor during the incident and is still liaising with medical professionals to ensure a full recovery for Imene.
“Despite the employee not being of Rössing we have been involved as safety is our top priority and we take every incident seriously,” he said.
Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) president Desley Somseb, however, said that mines should be held more accountable for incidents such as this. He added that all three parties that are linked to the accident are not doing what they should for Imene.
“Benefits such as medical aid and pension should be compulsory for any employee especially in the mining industry. However mines take the easy way out by subcontracting some of their services to avoid such responsibilities,” he said.