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ArcelorMittal fatality rate unacceptably high

1 February, 2010Zero fatalities remain top priority for joint global health and safety committee.

SOUTH AFRICA:  The latest meeting of the ArcelorMittal Joint Global Health and Safety Committee (JGHSC) took place on January 27 and 28, 2010.  Despite encouraging signs of improvement within the company on health and safety issues during 2009, the number of fatalities remains unacceptably high. The Joint Global Health and Safety Committee of ArcelorMittal are calling for greater vigilance from management, unions and workers to prevent further fatalities. The message is simple:  if the job is not safe - don't do it.

Sadly the JGHSC visit to South Africa was given more poignancy by recent fatalities in which four workers were killed, now the subject of an ongoing investigation. The fatalities occurred in the Newcastle plant, which is one of five facilities within ArcelorMittal South Africa. A small delegation from the committee visited the plant to see what lessons could be leant to prevent the possibility of any similar occurrence elsewhere in the group.

As part of the visit to South Africa, a delegation from the JGHSC also took the opportunity to meet with the Numsa leadership and IMF Regional Representative, Stephen Nhlapo. Discussions in the meeting covered important issues such as the need for union involvement in health and safety programs at the outset and the importance of access to training and education for union safety reps.  Numsa General Secretary Irvin Jim expressed the national leadership's commitment to play a leading role in improving health and safety conditions for workers throughout South Africa. He also expressed his concerns about the recent tragedy in Newcastle and stated that it must be a priority to assist the families affected by the recent fatalities, including the contractors that were not directly employed by the company.

The following morning the JGHSC carried out a site visit to Vanderbijlbark Steel Plant and took the opportunity to meet with representatives from local unions and management and conduct a safety tour of the plant. The main outcomes from the visit were a generally high standard of cleanliness in the plant, including the use of Personal Protective Equipment. But areas that needed improvement included developing greater cooperation between management and local unions in order to improve transparency and communication. The site also has a high level of contractors (around 40  per cent of the workforce) and greater attention needs to be given to ensure compliance with safety rules.

The JGHSC also reviewed progress from its previous visits and follow up actions had been carried out in Kazakhstan, Brazil, Mexico, Czech Republic and Romania. In some cases further actions were still pending. In addition the JGHSC was informed that all employees returning to the plant after lay off due to the economic crisis would receive refresher training. It was also agreed that a joint approach would be developed for April 28 ArcelorMittal World Safety day (Workers' Memorial Day). Union members of the JGHSC proposed that the focus should be on a worker's right to refuse unsafe work and improving contractor safety,  both of which would fit within the concept of shared vigilance, a proposal from the management side. The union side also requested that consideration be given to a global conference for health and safety representatives from union and management.

Future activities for the JGHSC include the development of a union health and safety network across all sites in the company to improve communication.  The next meeting is scheduled April 27 to 29, 2010 in Indiana Harbor, USA.