Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) is reviewing its safety processes in the wake of a fire and explosion at its Somerset West facility on 31 October, whilst authorities begin an investigation into the incident.
Jan-Patrick Helmsen, the CEO of RDM, on Tuesday said in a statement that although the company does not yet know what caused the fire and explosion, “in line with our incident protocols, we have proactively initiated a review of all safety processes. What we are certain of is that we continue to adhere to the strictest South African safety regulations and international standards, based on those of Europe and the United States. We comply with and in some cases exceed the safety standards and records of most countries in the Asian region and for a company of our size and complexity, we have for some years now performed better than the international norm.”
There were no fatalities after a fire broke out at the N86 magazine building of RDM’s Somerset West facility at around 23:00 on Sunday night. The fire was extinguished by Western Cape and RDM firefighters.
RDM said the South African Police Service was on site on Monday and the Department of Employment and Labour arrived on site on Tuesday. The N86 magazine building is closed off while the authorities carry out their investigation. Thereafter, RDM will be allowed to access the site as part of its own investigation.
“We will share updates on the investigation as it progresses. In the meantime, we are acutely aware that this incident has brought back painful memories for the families of those who passed away in September 2018. As such, we have made free counselling services available to those families and any RDM staff as needed,” Helmsen said in reference to the September 2018 explosion at RDM’s Somerset West facility that killed eight staff.
Helmsen pointed out that in addition to required certifications, RDM holds a number of independent ISO certifications and also complies with 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. 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 said.
Munitions manufacturing is inherently dangerous and it is not uncommon for accidents to happen. For example, a Serbian munitions factory exploded in June this year and in March, a munitions depot in Equatorial Guinea exploded, killing more than 100 people.