(Updates with lawyer comment)
JOHANNESBURG, April 3 (Reuters) - Twenty two current and former employees of South African petrochemicals group Sasol have filed a civil claim against its mining unit, regarding illnesses allegedly contracted while they worked for the company.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the employees by Richard Spoor, whose legal battle against a South African asbestos mining company led to a $100 million settlement in 2003.
In a statement, Spoor said the claimants had allegedly contracted a lung disease as a result of their exposure to dust while employed in Sasol’s coal mines. He said the workers had been employed by Sasol at different lengths of time going back to 1971.
“The plaintiffs allege that Sasol Mining failed to provide and maintain a working environment in its mines that was safe and without risk to the health of its employees and that it failed to comply with the statutory and common law duties that it owed them,” Spoor’s statement said.
The action was filed in the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday. “We anticipate filing further claims against Sasol and against other coal mining companies in the future,” Spoor said.
Sasol spokesman Alex Anderson said the company was assessing the lawsuit.
“While we cannot provide further comment as the legal process is underway, Sasol Mining takes the protection of the health and safety of our employees and the employees of service providers very seriously,” Anderson said.
Sasol Mining produces about 40 million tonnes of coal a year in South Africa, most of which is used in the process to convert the fossil fuel into synthetic fuel and chemicals.
Spoor has also pursued claims on behalf of miners against South Africa’s gold mining industry over the lung disease silicosis, caused by the inhalation of tiny particles of silica dust from gold-bearing rocks over many years without adequate protection. (Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by David Holmes)