Multiple investigations underway into RDM explosion


Efforts to establish exactly what caused last Monday’s explosion at the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) facility now include thee investigations, chief executive Norbert Schulze told Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Gordhan, accompanied by Denel chair Monhla Hlahla, visited the Somerset West facility on Friday.

Speaking after their visit Schulze said the company had “committed to conducting its own independent investigation with external support. This investigation is in addition to the formal investigations being carried out by the SA Police Service and the Department of Labour.
“We feel strongly in the interests of accountability and transparency, we must leave no stone unturned to determine what happened and why,” he said.

At the same time Schulze reassured people living around the facility there was “absolutely no risk”.
“In all instances RDM complies with and exceeds both national, set by the Department of Labour, and international, safety standards.”

He explained the building where the explosion took place was used to make a propellant as part of the production process. The chemicals used in this process are present in the air and will not negatively affect air quality.
“There are about 400 buildings on the Somerset West site, each designed in such a way that if there is an incident, it will not affect the surroundings. In this case blast walls ensured the pressure wave did not spread from the building and was directed upwards.
“This is because RDM defines and calculates ‘explosive circles’ which means buildings are spaced so if an incident does occur, it cannot affect other people or buildings. The size of the circle is determined by the operations in the building. RDM adheres to national and international standards which make provision for the circle to include a maximum possible affected area. All circles are on the RDM premises, so any possible effect is limited to the perimeter of the site. Surrounding communities cannot be affected by any such incidents,” he said.

RDM said it will continue to issue daily updates to the community and to media, but can only release the names of the eight people killed in the factory explosion once the identification process has been concluded and only after consultation with the individual families who have been affected.

On Monday it said that it will resume ammunition testing at its Somerset West site for the first time since the incident which occurred on 3 September.

Schulze said it was important to inform the community that testing would be resuming: “The community may hear some noise resulting from the munition testing which will be carried out on our dedicated testing site and I want them to know that these sounds are normal and that they should not be alarmed.”

Schulze said Rheinmetall Denel Munition understood that the community was still traumatised after the incident and wanted to make every effort to be sensitive to heightened fears.
“We are all still mourning a great loss to our community and need to support each other during this time, so as a company we are making extra efforts to be inclusive with the community about what’s going on at our site,” said Schulze.