RDM finds light fixture fault likely cause of 2021 fire


An internal Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) investigation into an October 2021 fire and ‘flashover’ at the company’s Somerset West facilities has found that a faulty light fixture was most likely responsible for the incident.

RDM said this week that the investigation into the fire at the N86 building on 31 October 2021 has determined that the fire was most likely caused by an electrical fault in a light fixture in the building.

The N86 building stored a paste which is used in RDM’s manufacturing processes. “Evidence suggests that an electrical fault in a light fitting started the fire, leading to melted material from the light fitting falling down onto the stored material. The stored material then ignited,” RDM said.

“The investigation found that no explosion occurred, but that ‘flashover’ occurred when pressure built up in the building when the material ignited. The flashover caused the roof of the building to be dislodged, while the walls of the building remained intact.”

Emergency response was immediately activated when the fire broke out. It was contained to the building and no injuries were reported.

RDM CEO Jan-Patrick Helmsen said: “The internal investigation found that the emergency response was immediately activated and all systems were in place to contain the fire. While this electrical fault could not have been predicted or planned for, we are using what we have learned from this to implement measures and systems aimed at preventing a repeat of this incident.

“The safety of our people is of utmost importance to us. In addition to the 70 people employed at our Somerset West site to develop, implement and monitor health and safety protocols, everyone at RDM has a role to play in ensuring that we create a safe and healthy workplace,” he said.

Helmsen added that, “We are grateful that no one was hurt in this incident, but we must learn from this experience and use what we have learned to bolster safety in our facilities.”

The explosion comes as the Department of Employment and Labour is conducting a public inquiry into a 2018 explosion at RDM’s Somerset West facility that killed eight workers.

In addition to RDM’s investigation, the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) opened their own investigations into the 31 October fire.

The Department of Employment and Labour recently held hearings on the cause of the September 2018 explosion at RDM’s Somerset West facility that resulted in eight deaths.

RDM, which has faced calls to shut down its Somerset West facility, noted that the company provides 1 100 jobs at the Somerset West depot and employs more than 2 500 people across the country.

RDM is the primary munitions supplier for the South African National Defence Force and South African Police Service and also plays a major role in water purification for the City of Cape Town.