JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – It is estimated that more than one-million former mineworkers, who are in need of medical assessments and treatments, are without access to health services, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi told delegates at the Mine Health and Safety Summit, held in Benoni, on Thursday.
He said that, with the help of government, the Minerals Council South Africa, trade unions operating in the mining sector, social partners, former mineworkers, associations, nongovernmental organisations and neighbouring countries’ governments, came together, in 2014, to solve the dire lack of access to healthcare and assistance for mining industry employees.
It was because of this combined approach that the Minister was able to report on Thursday that a database, which currently consisted of 400 000 former mineworkers and which helped track the process of occupational disease and injury claims from workers, was fully functional. Another 600 000 claimant files were anticipated to be added to the database by April 1, 2019.
This database, he explained, would help government with the key identification and tracking of the process of claims of workers and former mineworkers with, for example, occupational lung disease.
Since 2016, R600-million has been paid out to 20 000 former mineworkers, 200 of whom were from neighbouring countries but employed in South Africa.
However, Motsoaledi lamented that R1-billion in mine benefits remained unclaimed for almost 60 000 former mineworkers, who had not been found. This, he added, was because there was no database implemented in prior years to keep track of mineworkers and claims.
Therefore, the Minister appealed to delegates at the summit, and industry stakeholders, for assistance in helping to find these former workers.
This database, he said, was the initial step towards the strategy of assisting mineworkers and former mineworkers, who may be suffering from mine-related diseases.
Another step, he added, was the establishment of four One Stop Centres since 2014.
These centres, the Minister explained, provided medical assessment, as well as assistance with compensation services and enquiries. These centres also assist with nonoccupational health problems, such as cancer, diabetes and blood pressure, and can refer workers for further health assistance and treatment.
Over the last six months, over 7 000 mineworkers and former mineworkers have visited the centres.
Mobile One Stop Centres have also been established, with these having seen over 400 mineworkers and former mineworkers since Monday.
During his presentation, Motsoaledi stated that there was an obligation by employers to protect South Africa’s 22.5-million strong workforce, of which 16-million were permanently employed, from unsafe activity or sickness.
Referring to, specifically, tuberculosis, or TB, the Minister explained that of the ten-million people, globally, who had been diagnosed with TB, only six-million of these were currently on treatment.
The remaining four-million are said to be missing from the system.
In South Africa alone, 160 000 people are infected with TB – exponentially more than the fatalities from accidents reported in the mining industry – but cannot be found. More than 60% of these, the Minister lamented, were likely to be mineworkers. The database is hoping to find and assist these workers too.
It is for this reason that Motsoaledi called on industry stakeholders to implement health and safety improvements and measures. This, he pointed out, improved economic development.
“A company that keeps its workforce healthy enhances other important activities, and increases confidence, within the corporation,” he said, noting that this will, in turn, positively affect the corporation’s financial baseline.
The health and safety compensation mechanism in South Africa has, meanwhile, fallen to crisis levels, especially in compensation for occupational diseases.
The Department of Health, the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases and the Compensation Commission for Occupational Diseases, Motsoaledi said, had the responsibility to provide the medical assessment service, as well as the medical care and compensation for workers, and ex-mineworkers, in particular, from the South African mining sector.
This service is also provided to South Africa’s neighbours.
“Mining companies should not be compensating their workers for falling ill, but should have prevented them from getting sick in the first place,” he lamented.
“Occupational health and safety, as well as the compensation for occupational diseases and injuries, is an important aspect of social protection for workers, and part of that is to provide a safe working environment as is expected from organisations and companies”.
Especially considering that South Africa faced a shrinking employment force, Motsoaledi stated that there was an obligation that this resource be protected from unsafe activity or sickness, such as HIV/Aids or TB.