The Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) recently hosted the 2021 Occupational Health Dialogue Webinar on the 11th and 12th November 2021, under the theme ‘Reprioritising and reimagining Occupational Health to promote the health of mine employees in the era of Covid-19’.

The main task of the Council is to advise the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy on occupational health and safety legislation and research outcomes focused on improving and promoting occupational health and safety in South African mines.

Mining has historically been at the heart of the South African economy and will continue to play a critical role in supporting the goals and aspirations of the National Development Plan (NDP). Although considered by many as a ‘sunset industry’, mining is contributing about 7% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Despite the economy having diversified over time, the mining industry remains a central part of the economy, with an indirect contribution of over 17% to the GDP.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) matters

Although mining of minerals continues to play a significant role in the country’s economy and in sustaining the livelihoods of many in the country, it has also been responsible for a number of occupational diseases to the mine workers, as significant health risks exist in mining. Great strides have been made in the mining industry in as far as protecting the health of mining employees, however ZERO HARM is what we aim for.

The Leon Commission, which was the first to look into occupational health and safety (OHS) matters in the South African Mining Industry (SAMI) was held in 1994, was critical of the regulation of occupational health in the mining industry. It concluded (at that time), that pre-existing legislation and enforcement agencies did not offer the prospect of control of occupational disease and that radical steps were required to deal with the serious occupational health problems of the industry. It also pointed out that the key to the control of occupational diseases lay in the control of the working environment.

The recommendations from Commission has among others led to the establishment of the Mine Health and Safety Council, an improvement and stability in the regulatory framework of health in the South African mining industry, improvement in health data management as well as for the industry to put more emphasis on preventative interventions on health.

Occupational diseases prevention

The South African Mining Industry, through tripartism and strategic collaborations have set Occupational Health Milestones since 2003 to out more focus on the prevention of occupational diseases, particularly those of high prevalence such as: Pneumoconiosis (e.g. Silicosis and Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis) and Noise Induced Hearing Loss. In the review of these health milestones over the years, it was found that Occupational Diseases reported in the SAMI were of concern as compared to those reported in other sectors. The achievement of OH milestones also needed intervention and further prioritisation.

For these reasons, it was evident that discussions on occupational health matters, the control of exposure to hazardous agents, the prevention of occupational diseases and the promotion of workers’ health and wellbeing continues and were required.

Occupational health dialogue

The Occupational Health Dialogue was then conceptualised with the intention to conscientise the South African Mining Industry (SAMI) to put more focus on Occupational Health related matters. In addition, the long latency period from occupational hygiene exposure to disease manifestation has also contributed significantly to lack of urgent responses being considered to address health related matters in the past.

The (1st) first Occupational Health Dialogue was held in 2016, and in 2021, MHSC is hosting the 5th one through its tripartite stakeholders and in collaboration with the Minerals Council South Africa’s Masoyise Health Program. This will be a platform where robust discussions solely on health issues (primarily Occupational Health and emerging Public Health issues) and interventions within the South African mining industry will be held. It is further envisaged that it will provide an overview of the state of Health in our industry, challenges and successes in implementing health programs as well lessons in improving the health of employees amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, this dialogue is to remind everyone to keep the focus on occupational health issues (current and emerging) that are a challenge in the sector.

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