A health and safety working group has been established by the five major stakeholders in the South African mining industry. Mining Innovation News reported that companies – including industry giant AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. – had formed the group in order to tackle the epidemic of occupational lung disease amongst South African miners. A combined statement from Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti Ltd, Goldfields, Harmony and Sibanye said that the formation of the group was an effort to “engage all stakeholders in order to work together to design and implement a comprehensive solution that is both fair to past, present and future gold mining employees and also sustainable for the sector”.
An extensive consultation process – which will continue into 2015 – will be held between these five companies, government departments of health, labour and mineral resources, mining unions and employees. Once completed, possible solutions and safeguards will be implemented in order to bolster health and safety in the mining industry.
Lung disease amongst miners is rampant, despite past efforts to tackle the problem.
While the SA mining industry has health and safety policies in place, these have come under fire in the past, due to the fact that occupational lung diseases are still of epidemic proportions. The nature of mining lends itself to the development of occupational lung diseases such as silicosis and tuberculosis. Silicosis is caused by the excessive inhalation of tiny particles of silica – a mineral component of sand, rock and mineral ore. Once a silica particle is inhaled, the lung tissue reacts via a build-up of fluid and scar tissue. This reaction makes it increasingly difficult for sufferers to breathe. Tuberculosis (TB) has reached epidemic levels in South Africa.
Non-profit bio-tech company Aeras reports that nine out of ten gold miners in SA are latently infected with TB.
Of the annual 2.3 million cases of diagnosed TB sufferers, a third were connected to the mining industry. Besides the fact that miners are exposed to dust while on the job, their cramped living quarters and long shifts exacerbate the spread and effect of these diseases. The combination of these unique biological and environmental factors make tackling this problem both controversial and complicated. Despite detailed research on the subject, the efficacy of health and safety measures in the gold mining industry remains questionable. Shocking statistics like those quoted above indicate that health and safety in the S.A mining industry requires urgent attention by government and mining stakeholders alike.
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