October 20, 2017

The future of mining hinges on robust occupational and health capacity


Mining is one of the most hazardous occupations in the world. Just in South Africa, which has Africa’s most advanced mining sector, the death of miners averaged 75 between 2014 and 2016, according to the statistics released this year by South Africa’s minister of mineral resources, Mosebenzi Zwane. While the number might seem negligible, one death is one too many.

Typically, deaths due to mining go beyond incidents such as mine collapse. According to South Africa’s Chamber of Mines, one of the “major three causes of deaths in the mining industry includes inhaling of dangerous fumes” whose impact can be experienced years – even decades – after exposure. Former mine workers are vulnerable to occupational lung diseases , such as silicosis and tuberculosis.  Silicosis, is an occupational lung disease contracted by mineworkers underground from the inhalation of crystalline silica dust.

Hence, considering this scenario, there is need to understand and implement occupational  health and safety measures that prioritise employees’ well-being above everything, as employees are every mining company’s most invaluable asset.    One among numerous measures mines employ to curb the spread of hazardous  substances  is dust suppression. Dust suppression  limits potential hazards to employees, surrounding communities and damage to equipment.

Compliance assessment

Michelle van de Bank, Accounts manager at  Apex environmental, suggests that, for a best possible outcome, occupational health and safety needs continuous measurement, analysis and reporting of safety and health data. The results are then compared to legislative standards in order to assess compliance and the effectiveness of the existing control measures. From the data, recommendations are then formulated, stipulating how legislative compliance can be (or is being) achieved.


Government and Private sector regulatory partnership

It is evident from the complexity of the challenges that it faces that the mining sector cannot manage the occupational health and safety challenges on its own. And, in view of this, Apex environmental accounts manager, Michelle van de Bank, proposes the development of sustainable partnerships between the mining sector and government.  van de Bank suggests: “Governments and municipalities can outsource stack emission monitoring to companies that have an Air Emission License.”

All things considered, it is clear that the future of mining businesses hinges on enhancing occupational health and safety capacity, not just a rebound in global commodity prices. Occupational Health and Safety should be a top priority in board rooms of mining companies.

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