This report presents the findings and recommendations of a project to assess prevailing health and safety risks and corresponding research needs at previously uncontrolled mines producing commodities other than gold, coal and platinum and having fewer than 300 employees. The work was performed between February and November 1999 under contract to SIMOT, SIMRAC’s the “Other Mines” Research Advisory Sub-committee, by CSIR Miningtek in collaboration with Dial Environmental Services cc and the University of Pretoria Department of Mining Engineering.
Execution of the project involved the use of workshops, structured interviews, as well as observations and limited field measurements during site visits to mines, all of which were intended to assess occupational health and safety hazards and risks in the small-scale mining sector and to identify corresponding research needs. The project methodology was refined during and subsequent to an initial workshop involving stakeholders’ representatives, and information was obtained during site visits to 23 mining operations across South Africa and interviews with six of the DME’s Regional Inspectorates.
Findings were analysed and conclusions reached during a final workshop involving members of the project team, who endeavoured to validate opinions and observations with facts and numbers. However, owing to the general lack of information and formal structure within this sector of the industry, the adopted approach was not entirely successful, particularly with regard to the quantification of risks. Although identified health and safety risks were quantified for each the 23 mining operations representing eight categories of mining operations, the lack of a database or other comprehensive sources of information for the small-scale mining sector makes it impossible to authoritatively confirm the sample’s representativeness or to validly extrapolate levels of risk to the entire sector.
The principal findings and conclusions of the project are that:
- Health and safety hazards in this sector can be regarded as imposing moderate risks, in terms of the criteria applied.
- Health hazards generally impose similar risks as safety hazards but their risks are managed less effectively.
- Dust and noise, in that order, are the most significant health hazards at both surface and underground operations, with UV imposing greater risks than noise at certain types of surface mines.
- The relatively small number of employees exposed to various health and safety hazards in this sector limits the absolute magnitude of risk.
- Safety hazards are uniform in their occurrence across the sector, with machinery and transport constituting significant risks at surface and underground mines.
- At underground mines the most significant safety hazards are rock-related, i.e. falls of ground, rock stress and pillar design.
- There are no significant health or safety hazards unique to this sector of the industry that require research additional to that already undertaken or presently being addressed within the SIMRAC research programme, although further development work on specific control measures, e.g. for dust and noise, is indicated.
- Much of the research carried out under the auspices of SIMGAP, SIMCOL and SIMGEN could be advantageously applied to mines classified as “Other”, but the findings have not been communicated to the small-scale mining sector, probably as a result of SIMRAC’s compartmentalised structure.
- There is a general lack of reliable information on small-scale mining operations,impacting on the acquisition of data and on lines of communication between administrators, legislators, regulatory authorities and operators of small mines.
- Among small mine operators, there is a lack of awareness regarding legislated requirements for ensuring workers’ health and safety, particularly those more recently promulgated, resulting in varying levels of implementation and compliance with regard to risk assessment and risk management systems. This lack of awareness results in a general failure to recognise hazards and to assess and manage risks, indicating that it may constitute a fundamental root cause of health and safety risks in this sector.
- Traditionally recognised root causes of risk in the small-scale mining sector are similar to those in other sectors of the industry, but their significance may be greater due to poor communication between employers and the Department, as well as to a lack of infrastructural support for risk assessment, occupational hygiene monitoring, medical surveillance and worker training programmes. The impact of these negative factors is compounded by limited access to competent technical specialists and management systems to facilitate implementation and control measures. Accordingly, these deficiencies can also be collectively regarded as a fundamental root cause of risk that is both significant, and unique to the small-scale mining sector.
- Constituting yet another fundamental root cause of risk are the financial constraints to compliance experienced by knowledgeable (regarding legislated requirements) and concerned employers, which discourage the implementation of systems and programmes enumerated in the preceding point.
- The Department is presently fulfilling at least three roles within this sector, two of which are potentially in conflict with each other. Advising mine operators of their obligations and means of satisfying them, enforcing the requirements of the legislation and promoting the development of small-scale mining are all essential needs that might be better addressed through alternative assignments of responsibility. In addition, employers should be encouraged to make greater use of extra-Departmental resources, e.g. mining associations and competent risk assessment, training and occupational hygiene consultants.
- The method for categorising small-scale mines devised for use during the current project satisfactorily fulfilled its intended purpose. With provision for additional categorisation criteria or stratifyers (e.g. whether a mine is an independent operation or Group-aligned with access to Group resources), the method could be advantageously applied by the Department and others.
These findings and conclusions, together with others discussed in the report, resulted in the formulation of a number of recommendations for research, improved communication/ information and technology transfer to be variously considered by SIMRAC, the Department, Government at-large, employers and their service providers, and by appropriate combinations of these groupings.
Certain of the recommendations are offered for SIMRAC’s consideration in formulating its programme for research and development/technology transfer, given their relevance to risks that are both prevalent and significant in small-scale mining and their concomitant high priority. These can be recommendations for further work can be summarised as:
- Design a comprehensive database of pertinent information for all mining and quarrying operations in South Africa, employing the categorisation method developed for use during the current project, with the addition of any categorisation criteria or stratifyers as may be deemed appropriate. The envisaged database should either be incorporated into an existing resource or one currently under development.
- Compile suitable guidelines to inform mine operators of their legal obligations under current legislation with regard to health and safety, including summary guidelines for prospective mine operators to be issued at the time of application for mining permits.
- Develop general guidelines and criteria for worker education and training for health and safety in the small-scale mining sector, to be used by employers, training practitioners and training service providers, mining associations and educational institutions in designing programmes, courses and learning materials.
- Evaluate research findings from projects carried out under SIMGAP, SIMCOL and SIMGEN to identify those that could be advantageously applied to mines classified as “Other”, and compile a summary document suitable for transferring this knowledge and/or technology to the small-scale mining sector.
- Identify existing technologies that could be adapted for use by small mines to control hazards such as dust and noise, and further develop them in accordance with this sector’s needs.
- Further develop currently available PPE, as these devices are often rejected by workers as ergonomically unacceptable for the harsh climatic and working conditions commonly prevailing at small-scale mining operations. Such an initiative could benefit the entire mining industry.
- Investigate mechanisms to assist employers in overcoming the financial barriers to compliance with legislation and protection of workers’ health and safety, considering innovative means that possibly include subsidies and tax incentives for significant expenditures in the area of health and safety.
- The latter recommendation is also relevant to Government and some of its departments, particularly Minerals and Energy, as are the recommendations below:
- Devise improved methods of communicating changes in legislation and statutory requirements to employers and prospective employers in the small-scale mining sector.
- Re-evaluate the sometimes-divergent roles currently fulfilled by the Department of Minerals and Energy, as some of these are potentially in conflict with each other, to enable the more appropriate assignment of these responsibilities
- Encourage employers to make greater use of registered, competent consultants to assist with essential risk management functions, in order to reduce demands on the Department and eliminate some of the conflicts referred to in the preceding point.
A final, overriding recommendation offered is to ensure that all initiatives aimed at improving the situation with regard to health and safety in the small-scale mining sector are undertaken in a structured and co-ordinated manner, and in accordance with the interests of all stakeholders.