One of the functions of the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) is the provision of appropriate advice to interested and affected parties on policy, legislation, occupational health and safety (OHS) research priorities and the promotion of a culture of health and safety. To fulfil this function and to be able to liaise effectively with other bodies on OHS matters, the Mine Health and Safety Council requires timely access to accurate data and information for the evaluation of OHS performance and trends in the South African mining industry. OHS performance data and autopsy data are supplemented by compensation data and data on the number of persons employed at mines in the evaluation of OHS performance. Data submitted by employers on occupational accidents and diseases is extensive.
The motivation for the study is to identify improvements that could be made in the notification, recording and reporting of occupational accidents and diseases in the mining industry in South Africa.
A number of the stakeholders who use of current OHS database systems for the South African mining industry, or who wish to make use of them, were identified. A workshop was convened in an attempt to clarify the research objectives and also understand the user environments as well as needs. Database systems currently in use were also identified, and these were reviewed during site visits and by examining available documentation. Current data collection processes and controls were reviewed by means of focus group interviews, during which difficulties that exist in populating and maintaining databases and in the arrangements for the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases were identified.
OHS data is stored in a number of separate databases maintained by different departments within the same or separate organisations. Many of these databases have been in existence for a number of years. Some of the databases were created for the purpose of facilitating compliance with the regulatory obligations of government departments and sections, e.g. storing the results of medical examinations for purposes of surveillance, reporting injuries and occupational exposures. Other databases were created for the purpose of keeping a record of compensation activity.
It can be concluded from above that the management of the OHS data is fragmented and uncoordinated, with some data being duplicated inconsistently and other relevant data not being recorded. Data is sometimes submitted late and can be incomplete and/or incorrect. Data capture from paper-based input is labour intensive, error prone, and has the potential to create backlogs in reporting. Some of the databases have internal problems that should be relatively straightforward to correct, although extensive auditing of data and systems might be required. It is also not straightforward to access all necessary data to derive meaningful information regarding OHS issues. A lack of continuity of mine, and mineworker/ patient history information both of active and retired has been identified as a problem. The lack of interdepartmental worker data linkages both at mine level and within the DME has also been identified as a problem
Recommendations have been made concerning improvements to the reliability of OHS data and statistics. It is important to ensure that all stakeholders share a commitment to the objective of improving mining health and safety through reliable data collection and reporting for the benefit of all concerned.
These have to do with
- ensuring complete and accurate notification of injuries, diseases, worker movements, environmental conditions, and
- ensuring that the collection of routine data is properly conducted;
- improving the quality and consistency of stored data through electronic data storage,
- performing data capture at source where possible, rationalising the storage of data; and recording accurate work histories for exposure monitoring through persistent identification of individuals.
Recommendations have been made concerning improvements to the accessibility and usefulness of reported data and statistics.
These have to do with
- the effective integration and linkages of systems limiting access for security,
- using established open standards for data and information sharing, and the provision of flexible querying and immediate reporting functionality.
- Cooperative management of the OHS information system as a whole should be coordinated through some central governing body established for just such a purpose.