We firmly believe that occupational disease and illness can be prevented, if risks are properly eliminated, managed, and controlled. Our occupational health, hygiene and wellness programmes are aimed at preventing ill health, but also promoting good health and well-being.
We identify and quantify health hazards to enable us to minimise exposure and prevent injury and illness that may otherwise develop.
In adherence to legislative requirements, as well as the risk based occupational health standards of Rössing, some of our key programmes include, but are not limited to:
- Noise exposure control,
- Workplace ergonomics management,
- Health and medical monitoring,
- Hazardous substances exposure control,
- Fitness for work, wellness and fatigue management,
- Occupational medical surveillance, and
- Occupational hygiene.
The mining industry and its activities are associated with various health risks to which the workforce might be exposed. Health programmes remain a focus area in which exposure monitoring and risk management and control are key components.
All workers are grouped into Similar Exposure Groups (SEGs) based on the areas they work in, similarity and frequency of the tasks they perform and the associated exposures of these. At Rössing we follow a risk-based monitoring strategy, for the respective SEGs, determined by annual reviews of the site risk register. During 2021, we monitored 15 of the 18 SEGs.
Occupational hygiene monitoring is conducted to evaluate the following: legal compliance; risks to the health and well-being of our workforce; effectiveness of risk mitigating controls, as well as the tracking of progress against our objectives and targets which are aligned with the Rössing management system and health performance standards.
To ensure that collected data is accurate, comparable and representative, statistical analysis and validation is conducted. Internal criteria are established to protect the health of the workforce, including contractors, and they are defined as occupational exposure limits (OELs). Non-conforming monitoring results are investigated through the incident management process and appropriate actions are developed and implemented.
Some of the harmful health risks and agents at our workplace include exposure to noise, dust (silica), musculoskeletal stressors and microbiological agents found in the water system.
During 2021, our occupational hygiene monitoring programme included measurements of noise and vibration levels, respirable dust (including crystalline silica quartz), welding fume and metals in dust, hydration testing and water-borne bacterium (Legionella) in potable water.
Mining activities are synonymous with dust generation. Primary dust-generating operations include drilling, blasting, crushing, and the milling of mined ore, amongst others. The respirable fraction of the mineral dusts, such as rock, stone, and concrete, which in most cases are not visible to the naked eye, may reach the alveolar region of the lung (respirable), causing the most damage.
Chronic exposure to excessive dust concentrations may negatively impact workers’ health and may result in, but not be limited to skin irritations and/ or dermatitis, respiratory problems, and inflammatory lung diseases. The inhalation of dusts with specific elemental compositions, such as crystalline silica in the form of quartz, are well known to be highly Dust detrimental to the human body and may result in permanently debilitating (and even fatal) diseases.
Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) samples were taken from SEGs with expected silica exposure. The occupational exposure limit of 0.1 mg/m3 for RCS has been applied. None of the SEGs monitored exceeded the OEL for silica (see Figure 1), whilst Reduction workers and Laboratory workers recorded the highest RCS exposures.
Noise from machinery, maintenance activities and operational activities may put workers at risk of developing hearing impairment. Workers exposed to noise levels greater than the regulated occupational exposure limit of 85 dBA have an increased risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss, which is irreversible.
During 2021 eight of the 14 similar exposure groups that were monitored for noise, exceeded the occupational exposure limit of 85 dBA (see Figure 2). The measured exposures do not consider the protection factor provided by the hearing protection devices in use.
Figure 2 depicts the average annual personal noise exposures measured for the different SEGs in 2021.
The use of impact tools, maintenance activities, and general plant and equipment noise are the main sources of over exposure to noise at Rössing.
Noise zoning is applied in high-risk areas, together with the application of customised hearing protection devices. In other areas disposable ear plugs or earmuffs are used.
Occupational medical surveillance
Occupational medical surveillance examinations provide baseline and periodic measurements to detect abnormalities in workers exposed to work-related health hazards early enough to prevent or limit disease progression through exposure modification or medical intervention.
A risk-based periodic medical programme is followed with consideration of the exposures of employees and contractor employees in different SEGs. These require employees and contractors to undergo pre-employment, periodical and exit medical examinations.
Other medical examinations during employment include transfer medicals and return-to-work fitness medicals. Through the mine’s workplace wellness programmes, employees are encouraged to undergo additional medical screening tests to manage their own health and as a means of detecting chronic and/or life-threatening illness.
Leonard Petrus Kadhikwa, Human Resource Officer, doing a drug test, administered by Emed Intermediate Life support, Filemon Shikongo.
Our workplace wellness programme is designed to encourage individuals to take preventive measures to avert the onset or worsening of an illness or disease and to adopt a healthier lifestyle, thereby enhancing work performance, productivity and individual quality of life.
A wellness calendar with monthly themes is developed annually. These include commemorating important international health days, monthly health topics shared amongst the workforce by the company’s peer educators, and specific campaigns, among others.
During 2021 the main activities included:
- The annual Wellness Week in collaboration with the company’s medical aid service provider where employees had the opportunity to participate in health screenings on site.
- Blood donation clinics held at the mine where a total of 156 units of blood were collected.
- Cancer awareness and fund raising that included a prostate screening clinic for men at the mine and fund raising for the Bank Windhoek Cancer Apple project.
- Alcohol and drug awareness with a focus on responsible drinking versus problem drinking, ending with a 30-day ‘no alcohol’ challenge for employees.
- Introduction of a COVID-19 Vaccination Barometer to measure progress towards herd immunity. A total of eight vaccination clinics were held on site during the reporting year.