Investigations into RDM Somerset West explosion continuing


The South African Police Service (SAPS), Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) and Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) are continuing to investigate the source of a fire and explosion at RDM’s Somerset West facility on 31 October.

Jan-Patrick Helmsen, CEO of RDM, on Thursday said both internal and external investigations are continuing following a fire at the N86 magazine building at the Somerset West site.

The South African Police Service and the Department of Employment and Labour have been on site over the last few days as part of their investigation, but they have not shared any preliminary findings with RDM as yet.

Immediately following the incident, on Monday RDM appointed its own internal investigations team, Helmsen said. “While we have not yet been granted access to the N86 building by the SAPS, we are investigating and sourcing whatever information we can in the interim.” The cause of the fire and explosion is still not known.

Helmsen added that “we will share updates on the investigation as it progresses and we continue to make free counselling services available to those families affected by the 2018 incident and any RDM staff as needed.”

He assured residents that RDM adheres to the strictest South African safety regulations and international standards, based on those of Europe and the United States, and complies and in some cases exceeds the safety standards and records of most countries in the Asian region. “For a company of our size and complexity, we have for some years now performed better than the international norm.”

“Safety, specifically the safety of our team and our wider community, remains our top priority and, to that end, we review all systems, buildings, procedures, and skills levels on a continual basis — both as a company and in conjunction with the Department of Employment and Labour,” Helmsen stated.

“In addition to the required certifications, we hold a number of independent ISO certifications and also comply with the strict safety standards in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. We are regularly audited and tested by third parties including the Department of Employment and Labour and the Department of Environmental Affairs.

“We collaborate with the Department of Employment and Labour on a weekly basis to ensure alignment with standards and at our Somerset West site we currently have 80 full-time team members whose sole responsibility is safety.

“In addition, we are a member of SAFEX — a global industry association focused on the safe use of explosives. Through this membership, we benefit from continuous skills development and knowledge of international best practice, technological developments, and experiential learnings,” Helmsen said.

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.

Helmsen pointed out that 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.

The Department of Employment and Labour is currently holding hearings on the cause of the September 2018 explosion at RDM that resulted in eight deaths. The final sitting will be held in December.