Our workplace health exposure monitoring programmes are designed to quantify potential emissions and exposures with the aim to control harmful health risks and agents.
At Rössing Uranium, our risk-based monitoring programme is reviewed annually. Our monitoring strategy is determined from the site risk register review process and it focuses on groups of workers who have the same general exposure profile due to the similarity and frequency of the tasks they perform and the similar materials and processes they use in their work. These groups are described as similar exposure groups (SEGs).
During 2018, we monitored 17 SEGs.
Monitoring data is used to better evaluate the risk to people in our workplace and to assist in determining the effectiveness of risk mitigating controls, compliance with legal requirements, our requirements of the Rio Tinto management system and health performance standards and progress against our objectives and targets.
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 all our workplace personnel, 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 to rectify the non-conformance.
Some of the health risks and agents at our workplace include exposure to noise, dust (silica), musculoskeletal stressors and microbiological agents found in the water system.
During 2018, our occupational hygiene monitoring programme included measurements of noise levels, respirable dust (including crystalline silica quartz), welding fumes, manganese dust, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), compressed air quality (aero testing) and water-borne bacterium (Legionella and potable water).
Our mining activities, such as the blasting, drilling, loading and hauling of ore on unpaved roads are typically the major sources of dust emissions.
Transfer and pulverising of ore, which is mostly dry, at the primary crushing circuit and Fine Crushing Plant hugely contribute to high levels of fine dust concentrations, which are experienced at the Processing Plant and surrounding work areas.
During the reporting year, our dust monitoring was focused mostly on crystalline silica quartz. Silica is a natural substance found in our ore; when the ore is processed, dust is created. Some of this dust is fine enough to reach deep inside the lungs; this is known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and can cause harm to a person’s health.
During 2018, we collected 87 RCS samples from ten SEGs, applying the Rio Tinto occupational exposure limit (OEL) of 0.1 mg/m3 for RCS. Monitoring results are reported not taking into consideration the protection factor of personal protection equipment.
Figure 7 (right) depicts the average personal respirable silica dust based on the upper confidence level (UCL). The main reasons for dust exposures measured in 2018 included, among others, engineering controls which were not effective, inconsistent application of work practices aimed at reducing dust, and limited.
A review of all dust controls and the implementation of the dust-control strategy will be the key focus in 2019.
The aim of our hearing-conservation programme is to protect our workers' hearing, mainly because over-exposure to sound above the stipulated OEL of 85 dB (A) can result in noise-induced hearing loss, which is irreversible. This can be aggravated by simultaneous exposure to some chemical substances, for example carbon monoxide and solvents. Noise may also have an adverse effect on other systems, including the body’s cardiovascular system.
The use of impact tools and engine noise of heavy mobile equipment, as well as general plant and equipment noise are the main sources of over-exposure to noise at Rössing Uranium.
Noise zoning is applied in high-risk areas, together with the application of customised hearing-protection devices. In other areas, disposable ear plugs are used, as and when necessary.
During 2018, five of the 13 SEGs that were monitored exceeded the occupational exposure limit of 85 dB (A). The graph above depicts the average annual personal noise exposures measured for the different similar exposure groups in 2018.
Monitoring results do not taking into consideration the protection factor of personal protection equipment (PPE). All employees who work in dust or noise high-risk areas are issued with customised respiratory- or hearing-protection devices. These devices are maintained and ft-tested on an annual basis. Measured exposures indicated in Figures 8 do not take into account the protection factor provided by these devices.
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.
At Rössing Uranium, a risk-based periodic medical programme is followed with consideration of the exposures of employees and contractor employees in different similar exposure groups (SEGs). These require employees and contractors to undergo pre-employment, periodical and exit medical examinations.
Other medical examinations during employment include transfer medical examinations and return-to-work fitness medical examinations. 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.
Our workplace wellness programmes are designed to help us in creating a work environment that is healthy for our employees. Encouraging employees to look after their health and well-being is a critical component of our overall approach to health and safety. The programmes also involve increasing knowledge and awareness through campaigns and education sessions and introducing policies that help employees make healthier choices. Various activities were undertaken during 2018 to support the following programmes:
In collaboration with Namibia Health Plan (NHP), Rössing Uranium’s annual Wellness Week was held onsite for the fifth consecutive year during August 2018. A total of 448 employees and contractors received wellness screenings during this week.
Blood donation clinic
The Blood Transfusion Service of Namibia held five blood donation clinics onsite, during which a total of 301 units of blood were donated. In recognition of the employees' support, we received the Namibian Blood Transfusion Coastal Industrial Award (Gold) at a special event.
Alcohol and drug awareness
External service providers held sessions at the mine to raise awareness of alcohol and drug abuse. A total of 448 employees and contractors attended these sessions. Subsequently, 36 volunteers were trained in managing alcohol and drug support groups in various communities.
Employees knowing their HIV status
During the reporting year, two HIV Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) events were held onsite at no cost to employees and contractors. A total of 238 persons attended.
Rio Tinto Global Challenge
The Rio Tinto Global Challenge received good support with 47 Rössing teams, consisting of 329 participants, who participated in a 100-day virtual journey. Three teams ended in the final top ten of all the Rio Tinto teams who participated in this event that counted the participants' daily steps as a way to improve health.
Focus areas in 2019
We plan to roll out a technology-based, fatigue risk assessment programme to enhance understanding of our risk and improving on the mine’s fatigue management controls.
To remain aligned with global and local emerging health threats and managing these proactively, the mental health and wellness programme will receive special focus.
Hearing protection devices (ear plugs, ear muffs and customised hearing protection devices) are our critical control for noise exposure; therefore, focus will be placed on ensuring consistent and correct usage of these devices. Supporting these actions, we will implement a hearing-protection, ft testing validation programme for disposable
Safety management is a critical issue and a systematic approach is essential to ensure consistency across the business. Our absolute focus is to eliminate fatalities and major injuries. To achieve this we are committed to create a zero harm environment and approach for our employees.
The mine recorded an All-injury Frequency Rate (AIFR) of 0.83 for the year, against a target of 0.35. The mine had five months with no recordable injuries – an indication that zero harm is achievable.
The following injuries occurred during the 2018 reporting period:
- Lost-day injuries: 7
- Medical treatment cases: 7
- The mine experienced 4 potentially fatal incidents (PFIs).
Highlights in our safety management during 2018 included the following:
- No major environmental issues were identified during the ISO 14001:2015 second surveillance audit, which is carried out annually. A recertification audit is scheduled to take place in 2019.
- A sectional housekeeping competition was held, driven by occupational health, safety and environment (OHSE) representatives. The purpose was to improve general housekeeping at the mine, as well as to instil a sense of pride in individual workshops. The competition took place every trimester and the winners were presented with tokens of
appreciation at a prize-giving ceremony.
- During the reporting year, we identified three mitigation measures which were normalised during our ‘Learning critical lessons’ sessions. These three risks were isolation, vehicle-pedestrian segregation and ammonia awareness. To address these risks, we identified the following actions:
- We conducted an in-depth review on all tasks involving isolation, which provided opportunities to implement a number of improvements, for example implementing an isolation permitting system. This review will continue during the first quarter of 2019.
- Major improvements were done on traffic management at the mine entrance and in the open pit.
- An ammonia awareness programme was rolled out. Ammonia offloading was restricted to take place only after 17.00 when day shift personnel have left the site. More ammonia muster rooms were identified and equipped.
- A zero-harm pilot training programme was rolled out to all senior leadership team members. In 2019, a safety leadership coaching programme will be rolled out to all leaders, with special focus on in-field coaching for the front-line managers (ie foremen).
- The introduction and roll out of the Rio Tinto Group procedure, Mass Transportation, which focuses specifically on vehicles able to transport nine or more people. The full implementation for this procedure is scheduled for the first quarter of 2019.
- Fundamentals of Process Safety training was provided to key personnel involved in our process safety management (PSM) system. PSM focuses on the low probability/high consequence incidents, for example fires or explosions.
- The Rössing Uranium safety team actively participated in the Chamber of Mines of Namibia's Safety Committee in 2018.
Injuring employees and contractors is not in line with our goal of zero harm, which is that everyone goes home safe and healthy at the end of each working shift.
To enable us to achieve our goal of creating and sustaining a safe, caring workplace, the following will be amongst the focus items during 2019:
- sustain the Critical Risk Management (CRM) programme, with a reduction in critical control failure;
- conduct leadership assessment, training and coaching for operations line management;
- monitor material risks and mitigation plans;
- monitor mass transportation critical controls;
- review high consequence/low probability risks with the focus on engineering those risks out as far as reasonably practical;
- develop and provide PSM training to all levels of the business;
- continue with the safety initiatives started during 2018; and
- review our HSE training methodology to improve efficiency.