Dust and debris on mine and construction sites represents a significant danger to workers and can have dire consequences for employers.
Six South African gold mining companies have set aside R5 billion (about US $417 million) in compensation funds as part of a class action brought against them by over half a million workers affected with Silicosis or TB. The out of court settlement, which is likely to be concluded later this year, is a stark reminder of the consequences a lack of cleanliness can have on the health and safety of workers on site.
Silicosis is caused by the inhalation of rock, sand or concrete dust that is generated as a result of activities like sand blasting. Dust containing crystalline silica particles can cause scar tissue – known as fibrosis – to form in the lungs, reducing their ability to extract oxygen from air which, in extreme cases, can lead to death.
“In light of the dangers airborne particles pose to construction and mine workers it is essential for Health and Safety representatives to consult with cleaning industry experts to ensure they are adequately managing this risk,” says Emma Corder, Country Manager of Nilfisk South Africa – a leading supplier of professional cleaning products and service. “Dry sweeping, for example, can generate more dust and compound the issue whereas industrial vacuums and pressure washers can effectively reduce and remove harmful particles.”
According to Corder, dust is not the only hazard that can be mitigated through the use of effective cleaning processes. Slips, trips and falls make up a huge portion of industrial accidents. These incidents can often be attributed to oily floors or construction debris.
In the lead up to Workers Day, which serves to pay homage to the importance of South Africa’s working class, it is important to reflect on Section 24 of the Constitution which states that everyone has a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being. Maintaining safe construction sites is vital, not only for workforce preservation but for the success of the companies they work for.
“When components of any support structure disintegrate, the entire system suffers. In some cases, one weak link can break the chain. Generally speaking, that which forms the support structure – the backbone, if you like – of a company is its workforce,” says Corder.
Therefore, decision-makers within a company should prioritise keeping their workforce as strong as possible for the good of each employee, for compliance with health and safety regulations, and for the growth and success of the company.
The South African Department of Labour estimates that the value of claims lodged for occupational injuries and diseases with the Compensation Fund amounts to over R 2 billion (about US$167 million) annually.
- The International Labour Organisation (ILO) further estimates that: Approximately 6 300 workers die from occupational accidents or work-related diseases every day, which amounts to more than 2.3 million deaths per year.
- Some 860 000 workers are injured on the job every day; in other words, over 313 million workers suffer non-fatal occupational injuries each year.
In South Africa, the chemical, iron and steel, construction and health sectors are cited as industries which are highly vulnerable to these occurrences.
“The truth of the matter is that these statistics can be reduced. A clean and orderly work site is directly linked to the health and safety of workers. In essence, a cleaner site results in greater safety and fewer costs,” says Corder.