The Chamber of Mines (CoM) states that it is not making the desired progress with noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which is a major occupational health concern, as it finds that NIHL rates across the mining industry have stabilised.
“As an industry, we have committed to the massive reduction and elimination of NIHL,” states CoM head of health Dr Thuthula Balfour-Kaipa.
Currently, statistics from the Department of Mineral Resources indicate that, on average, 1 600 cases of NIHL are reported a year.
Balfour-Kaipa notes that NIHL is prominent in the mining industry because action plans aimed at eradicating this disease are not as well integrated as they should be. “We need far more comprehensive noise-control programme,” she urges.
In addition, the type of machinery used in mines could make a significant difference to the amount of noise exposure in mines, requiring the CoM to liaise with machinery suppliers and to urge them to implement low noise-emitting technologies.
“Currently, a significant number of mach-ines used in the mining industry emits loud noises, causing damage to workers’ hearing,” Balfour-Kaipa explains.
She notes that the CoM is communicating with machinery suppliers and original- equipment manufacturers and, through the Mining Industry Safety and Health Learning Hub, mining companies are urged to follow leading practices to reduce noise levels.
Further, Balfour-Kaipa notes that the min-ing industry has an aging population, with 40 being the average age of a worker; therefore, there is an increase in diseases of lifestyle, such as hypertension and diabetes.
“These diseases, manifesting in our work-force, are a big area of concern, which is forcing the whole industry, including the CoM to focus more on lifestyle diseases.”
Meanwhile, tuberculosis (TB) and HIV figures are being managed within the min- ing industry and Balfour-Kaipa states that the industry has dealt with the worst of the situation.
“The HIV epidemic has stabilised and infections are declining, in line with the rest of the subregion. Mining companies have implemented many HIV programmes over the years and these are also bearing fruit, with most workers having access to ARVs through company programmes.
TB reviews are a tool developed by the Mine, Health and Safety Council to assess companies’ TB programmes and highlight the areas that require improvement.
“Therefore, companies can improve on weak areas and this has resulted in improvements to TB programmes across the mining industry,” states Balfour-Kaipa.
In 2012, TB audits were conducted on companies in the platinum sector, with the gold sector audited in 2011. Coal companies will be audited this year.
Balfour-Kaipa stresses that mining com-panies are doing their best to ensure adequate healthcare for mineworkers, going beyond their legal requirements.
“There has been a move towards medical aid in the mining industry, owing to requests from employees. However, whether mineworkers are on medical aid or attended to through mine health programmes, they have access to good health services,” she stresses.
Balfour-Kaipa further emphasises that education is one of the major prerequisites for a healthy mining industry, as it leads to better communication among mineworkers. “The mining industry is making good strides in ensuring an educated workforce,” she notes.
Research conducted by Anglo Platinum in 2008 showed that the artificially manufactured Fanakalo language had an adverse effect on the effectiveness of communication and it has phased out its use across the mining industry.
The phasing out of Fanakalo is not easy, as it is part of the culture of the mining industry, notes Balfour-Kaipa, who comes from a local mining industry background herself. “In a rural area, there is nothing that distinguishes you more than the ability to speak Fanakalo, as everyone knows that you are from the mines and that you are a working person. It is a status symbol in rural areas,” she adds.
In addition, Fanakalo is able to cut across languages. However, the main issue with the language is that it is instructive and it does not have the scope to convey complex issues. “Mines need to ensure that all mineworkers will be able to effectively communicate issues that they identify among themselves and in the mining environment,” Balfour-Kaipa concludes.