We firmly believe that occupational disease and illness can be prevented, provided that 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 Uranium, 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; and
- fitness for work and fatigue management.
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 programmes are 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 of the similarity and frequency of the tasks they perform, the similar ways in which they perform those tasks and the similar materials and processes they use in their work.
These groups are described as similar exposure groups (SEGs), which includes all Rössing Uranium workers and site contractors. During 2019, we monitored 16 of the 20 SEGs. Although there are 20 SEGs, not all the SEGs are monitored every year, as the monitoring focuses on a risk-based approach. SEGs to be monitored are determined every year according to statistical analysis of the previous three years’ data.
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 Rössing Uranium 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 (OEL). 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 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 2019, 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 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 2019, we collected 131 RCS samples from ten SEGs and the OEL of 0.1 mg/m3 for RCS has been applied. None of the SEGs monitored exceeded the OEL for Silica (see Figure 7), whilst Pit equipment operators and Laboratory workers exposed to RCS at 50 per cent of the OEL based on the Land’s “Exact” 95 per cent Upper Confidence Limit (UCL), analysed utilising the Occupational Hygiene Statistic tool IHStats.
The main focus in 2020 will be to utilise real time technology and onsite silica analysis by means of a portable FTIR, to optimise and intensify the monitoring programmes for RCS.
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.
Heavy mining equipment, combined with high volume settings on two-way and FM stereo radios in the equipment cabs, 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 (CHPD). In other areas, disposable ear plugs are used.
During 2019, eight of the 14 SEGs that were monitored exceeded the occupational exposure limit of 85 dB(A). Figure 8 depicts the average annual personal noise exposures measured for the different similar exposure groups in 2019. 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 fit-tested on an annual basis. Measured exposures indicated in Figure 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 2019 to support these programmes.
In collaboration with Namibia Health Plan (NHP), Rössing Uranium’s annual Wellness Week was held onsite from 19 to 22 November 2019 for the sixth consecutive year. A total of 609 employees and contractors received wellness screening during this week.
During the programme kick-off event in November, the new Wellness Programme logo was also launched.
Alcohol and drug awareness
Alcohol and drug abuse awareness sessions were held onsite with contractor companies to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. A total of 609 contractors attended these sessions. Subsequently, an alcohol and drug support group was established in Arandis for Rössing employees, contractors and their relatives. This group meets bi-weekly.
Blood donation clinics
The Blood Transfusion Service of Namibia held three blood donation clinics onsite, during which a total of 165 units of blood were donated. These units can potentially save at least 495 lives.
Employees knowing their HIV status
HIV Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) event was held onsite in December 2019 at no cost to employees and contractors. A total of 77 persons attended.
Shoe Box Project
Rössing Peer Educators donated 49 shoe boxes containing Christmas gifts to the children at Ûiba Ôas Crystal Market near Usakos in December 2019.
An epidemiological study, commissioned by Rio Tinto, on the potential effects of low level occupational radiation exposures on mine workers started in 2015 in cooperation with the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. An external advisory committee, consisting of community leaders and Government representatives, is assigned to provide external input and advice.
The study was expected to be finalised during the first half of 2019; however the University of Manchester communicated a delay in the completion of the study due to a number of factors, including additional time taken in data gathering and work required to analyse the complicated data sets. Rössing Uranium remained committed to making the findings public, and after the process of obtaining the relevant regulatory reviews from the Government of Namibia, plan to brief employees and communities in 2020. For more information, visit the Rössing website, Reports and Research section.
As part of Rössing’s corporate social investment programmes, Rössing’s Peer Educators donated 49 shoe boxes from employees, containing Christmas gifts to the children at Ûiba Ôas Crystal Market in December 2019. The Ûiba Ôas Crystal Market is situated on the main road between Usakos and Arandis and managed by the Ûiba Ôas Cooperative.
Focus areas in 2020
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, fit testing validation programme for disposable ear plugs.
Our respirator and dust mask fit testing will be improved by moving from a qualitative testing method to a quantitative testing method following the purchase of quantitative fit testing equipment.
Monitoring of dust exposure, utilising new improved real-time monitoring equipment, and supporting the implementation of the dust management plan, remains another focus area.