Anglo American could lose billions in a class action suit launched on behalf of mineworkers who were allegedly exposed to unsafe levels of coal dust by the mining company for years.
Richard Spoor Inc Attorneys recently applied for certification of a class action brought against nine mining companies owned or formerly owned by the Anglo American Group.
Associate at Richard Spoor Inc. Attorneys Chloe Hoffmann said the firm has identified 13 class representatives who will represent the interests of all class members.
However, they have relative certainty that this class action will benefit tens of thousands of mine workers “just by virtue of the number of mines that were owned and operated by Anglo and the number of mine workers that they employed”.
Hoffmann told eNCA that the firm has consulted with thousands of mine workers, and it has become apparent that it is a prevalent issue across mining companies.
“It is important to us simply by virtue of the fact that not only have mine workers continued to be impacted by very severe illnesses, but many have also lost their lives,” she said.
Inhaling unsafe levels of coal dust, especially for prolonged periods, can cause an illness called coal mine dust lung disease – the most severe of which is pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
While COPD, for example, can be caused by other factors like smoking, Hoffmann said the length of the mineworkers’ exposure to coal dust in Anglo heightens the chance that the main cause of the disease was the exposure.
“What moves the balance in our favour is the fact that our mineworkers have such a significant working history at each of these mines,” she said.
“Many of our mineworkers have worked for the mines for in excess of 20 years. In the face of such exposure to coal mine dust lung disease, the likelihood is that those diseases were caused by their exposure to coal mine dust.”
Richard Spoor Inc Attorneys has previously undertaken a similar case against gold mining companies for workers who contracted silicosis from gold mines owned by Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, African Rainbow Minerals, Sibanye-Stillwater, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American.
That class action culminated in a settlement between the class members and the mining companies of a minimum of R5 billion.
Hoffmann said the firm expects the coal miner class action to have a similar outcome.
“Further to that, we hope to have a lasting impact on the mining operations themselves,” she said.
“We hope to have the mining companies recognise the critical role they play in providing a safe working environment to their employees and their obligation to do so.”
“We intend to have a lasting impact on the working protections that are going to be implemented going forward.”
Human rights lawyer and founding director at Richard Spoor Inc Attorneys Richard Spoor said this class action suit is “in consequence of Anglo’s reckless and negligent exposure to really dangerous levels of dust in the coal mines, levels of dust that they knew were likely to cause workers to become ill”.
“We’re asking the court to approve the class action. We’re hopeful that Anglo will not oppose the certification.”
Daily Investor reached out to Richard Spoor Inc Attorneys and Anglo American for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.